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Ex-Ireland star reveals 'huge area of concern' for Ulster

By Ian Cameron
John Cooney of Ulster, right, after the United Rugby Championship match between Munster and Ulster at Thomond Park in Limerick. (Photo By Seb Daly/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Former Ireland backrow Stephen Ferris has identified a huge area of concern for Ulster as they face Leinster today in their URC quarter-final at the Aviva Stadium.

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Leinseter have lost twice to their provincial rivals this season and Ferris believes all the pressure will be on big favourites Leo Cullen’s men following a string of inconsistent performances.

Meanwhile, Ulster are enjoying something of a second wind after an at times troubled season in Belfast.

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Damian de Allende talks about the plaudits heaped on him by his teammates

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Damian de Allende talks about the plaudits heaped on him by his teammates

“If we had been having this conversation six weeks ago, I would have said Leinster were going to win by 30 or 40 points,” said Ferris this week.

“But there is jeopardy now. There is a question over Leinster’s mentality and whether they can close big games out. The wait for a trophy goes on and on and on and the longer it goes on the more pressure that comes with that.

“Every team in this competition loves to beat Leinster because they have been the best, with four league titles in a row.

“With Ulster having beaten them twice already this season, that will give them huge confidence.

“There has been so much chopping and changing with the Leinster side and no doubt there will be a lot more change going into this weekend.

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“They have shown inconsistency over the last few weeks whereas Ulster have been super consistent in their performances. They are just playing so much better.

“They will be relishing the fact that everybody will be writing them off and they will go after Leinster that’s for sure.”

“Three months ago, it was doom and gloom,” says Ferris.

“People were saying Ulster were the fourth best province and rubbish.

“But with a couple of results and a couple of young guys playing very well, it has changed the whole way people are viewing them.

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“These young guys are bringing energy and positivity, the fans are back on board. Everyone is speaking in a good way about Ulster rugby at the minute.”

Ferris is impressed with Ulster’s turnaround under Richie Murphy: “They have been really competitive and really strong.

“They are direct when they need to be, but the huge thing for me is how much width they are keeping on their game.

“They look fit, they look fresh, they all look comfortable with the ball in hand. Richie has let the lads play with a little bit more freedom instead of being caged up and worrying about making a mistake.

“He has just given the guys the licence to go and play. It’s much better to watch.”

How Ferris believes the scrum will be a major issue for Ulster.

“But the scrum is still a huge area of concern.”

“They played really well against Munster last weekend, but the change in the momentum was in the scrum. They got dominated a few times and gave away penalties.

“Earlier in the season, Dan McFarland got the sack after the Ospreys game where they got pumped in the scrum.

“The first match of the season set the tone when they got pumped in the scrum against Zebre. The same thing happened when they lost at home to Edinburgh.

“It’s just been a huge, huge area of concern.

“If Leinster go with their full-strength team, I can’t see Ulster winning because of set-piece.

“With Tadhg Furlong, Dan Sheehan and Andrew Porter there, I think that’s going to be a real tough one.

“No scrum, no win is what the South Africans say.”

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Mzilikazi 2 hours ago
Is Ireland versus South Africa a battle for the title of ‘world champions’?

Very good article, Nic, and I find agreement with what you write virtually 100%. I think this two mach series has increasingly become one which will be very difficult for Ireland to win. After the first game of the last 6N, I would have been very full of confidence taking on the Boks in SA. France beaten by a big margin in France, it looked as if Ireland had emerged in fine form from the World Cup, despite the very narrow loss to the AB’s. But after that game, a slide began, ending with the defeat to England. Ireland were very fortunate to win this years 6N ! And as you so fully expose, this has not been a good season for Leinster, or indeed, in my view, for any Irish province. The Leinster loos to the Bulls, and then Munster letting a glorious chance slip to the Glasgow Warriors down at Thomond. Man, that one will really hurt. And both Connacht and Ulster have at times looked very poor this seaso, bith heavily beaten on occassion. The loss of both Gibson Park and Keenan are huge blows, especially Gibson Park. And there is really only one clear class 10 in the touring party, Jack Crowley, and he is still a very young player learning his trade. If he goes down, heaven help Ireland. And in my view, Ireland do not have a good scrummaging front row, SA do, and in great depth too. But despite all this doom and gloom, I always believe my team can win. Not that they will win, just can ! Ireland will still field what is the best and most talented team overall that I have seen in my lifetime. But the coaching group will really have to step up, no awful decisions like the one made against the AB’s in the QF….keeping the totally spent and poorly performing(on the day) Sexton on for the full 80mins, leaving Crowley on the sidelines. Ireland should never have lost that game !

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S
Shaylen 5 hours ago
Is Ireland versus South Africa a battle for the title of ‘world champions’?

Ireland have all the tools required to hurt SA. They develop quick ball, hold onto the ball for long periods, stretch the game when its on, have powerful mobile forwards, a good kicking game and they can hold their own in the scrum. They also can force turnovers regularly and in general do well at the breakdown. When Munster, the Ospreys and Glasgow all won games in SA this year against the Bulls and Stormers they did just that and won. It is also the reason why Ireland won the game at the world cup last year. The problem for Ireland is that SA have all the tools required to hurt them as well and hurt them a great deal more than England did in the Six Nations. They are physical and powerful at the set piece, they rush up and counter the Irish attacking system and they can really attack the breakdown and slow your ball down. Their counterattacking threat is also a big weapon and they score many tries from turnover turning defence into offence in a second. Toulouse and the Bulls nailed Leinster in this way and Glasgow did the same thing to Munster. So the series will be really interesting because both sides are so good at countering each other. Interested to see what kind of surprises Tony Brown springs and how the SA game develops. Feel like SA have more potential to surprise Ireland but then a new coaching set up as well as the fact that Japanese and foreign based players tend to take about 5 to 6 weeks to get up to speed might work in Irelands favour. SA have shipped at least one game in 4 of the last 5 June/July test windows going back to 2018 for this exact reason.

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