Ulster will be worried going into tonight’s clash with Leinster at Ravenhill, writes former Ulster, Leinster and Lions tourist Eric Miller.
Ulster’s backs are against the wall at the moment. A dip in form, combined with Glasgow Warrior’s surge has put Mark Anscombe’s side in a precarious position. With Ulster’s European pedigree they would have been expected to see off Glasgow, but alas they came up short. Tonight’s game with Leinster is delicately balanced, as the men from the RDS will be looking to put their European woes behind them and build on last weekend’s trashing of Treviso.
Leinster have always done well against Ulster. Their record is very strong against the Northern province and Leinster have a decent record at Ravenhill. However, with Leinster all but assured of a home semi-final, do not be surprised if they take their foot off the pedal. The mindset at this time of the season will be different for both sides, as Ulster will be determined to cement their semi-final spot and we should expect more fire and brimstone than usual tonight.
“Having gone unbeaten in the Heineken Cup pool stages, and now facing the prospect of elimination from the Rabo, Ulster’s season is really slipping away.”
Tonight sees the official opening of the redeveloped Ravenhill stadium and with guys leaving at the end of the year,such as captain Johann Muller, they will want to finish on a high. It definitely wouldn’t have been in their thought process that they weren’t going to finish in the top four of the Rabo. Having gone unbeaten in the Heineken Cup pool stages, and now facing the prospect of elimination from the Rabo, Ulster’s season is really slipping away. They will want to give stalwarts like Muller a big send-off at the end of the year with a medal to take away. In that sense, it is going to be a difficult night for Leinster.
Jared Payne starts in the centre tonight and will be up against Brian O’Driscoll, the man that many believe he will replace in the Ireland squad. Although it may appear that Payne is heir to BOD’s crown, that won’t happen until September at the earliest and it’s important that he concentrates on tonight’s game. It should be a great battle and provide us with an insight into what level Payne is at.
Payne was very unlucky to see red in the Heineken Cup game against Saracens and it was a harsh decision by the referee. I don’t think the referee particularly used common sense in relation to the fact that it was early in the game and Payne had his eyes fixed firmly on the ball. It was such a big match and there was no intent from Payne. He was very unlucky. I think it comes down to the common sense of the referees and on this occasion, I feel it was the wrong decision.
“Jared Payne is the man that many believe will replace BOD in the Ireland squad”
Noel Reid had a fantastic game against Treviso, but has been left out of Leinster’s squad for tonight’s game. I think he has struggled in the higher level matches; dropping the odd ball or not making the right break etc. I think he’s a solid player but he definitely has a long way to go before he can get to the level that he aspires to. I think the more he plays, the better he will get but at the moment question marks still remain over his ability to perform at the highest level.
Tonight’s encounter should be a very high-scoring game. The pressure is on Ulster and they will have no choice but to play most of the rugby. They have the best attacking game of all four provinces in my opinion , but it will take a lot to break down Leinster’s defence, especially their front six of Irish internationals.
Leinster should approach the game in the same vein as they did in the demolition of Treviso. They were very restricted against Toulon and found themselves suffocated out of the game. If they play a wider game like the one against Treviso, then that will free up Ulster too and lead to a very high-scoring game.
It should be a fantastic night in Ravenhill, and this one is too tight to call.
Eric Miller, Pundit Arena.