Cup final 'pinnacle' of Ulster journey

Published Friday, 18 May 2012
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Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin has described the Heineken Cup final as the pinnacle of their three-year journey and a chance to show all of Europe how far they have travelled.

Cup final 'pinnacle' of Ulster journey
Johann Muller (© Getty)

The team will play Leinster on Saturday in the first ever all-Ireland decider, with more than 10,000 local supporters leaving Belfast to stand up for the Ulstermen at Twickenham.

For McLaughlin the game will be the last of his three years in charge, and he says he wants to see his players go out and prove their quality in front of the rugby world.

"This is all about us tomorrow," he said. "It's about Ulster rugby and it's about going onto the pitch and for 23 players to show exactly how far they have travelled over the past three years and that's exactly what I am all about.

Tomorrow, for me, is probably the pinnacle of my rugby career so far

Brian McLaughlin

"I have no doubt that these guys tomorrow will go onto that pitch and show everybody in Europe what a quality side they are."

The final will be Ulster's first in 13 years as they try to replicate the cup glory of 1999, while their opponents try for their third European win in four years.

Leinster are the odds-on favourites, but the Ravenhill men have claimed some mighty scalps on their route to Twickenham, most notably Clermont Auvergne, Leicester and Munster.

The captain's run was held at the 82,000-capacity stadium on Friday, with the Ulster line-up including John Afoa and Chris Henry who are returning to the starting 15.

Captain Johann Muller said it will be up to the likes of himself and Rory Best to lead by example and make sure the occasion does not overwhelm the players.

"It's all about charging all of that energy and nerves and excitement into the right areas," he said.

"You can go into a game like this and be over excited and you just lose the plot completely in the first 10 minutes, so it's important that guys like myself and Rory are the leaders of the side and channel all that energy.

"I think the biggest fear from our side is just that we go out there and we do not play, you know, that the occasion is too big, but like I say that's why we've got leaders in this side and it's our job to make sure that we go out and play to the best of our ability and enjoy a wonderful occasion."

Meanwhile for Leinster, Brian O'Driscoll has been passed fit for the game after missing their recent RaboDirect PRO12 clash with Glasgow, following minor knee surgery.

"Brian trained fully yesterday, he trained well, he is in good shape and he will play tomorrow," coach Joe Schmidt said.

"Rob [Kearney] had a run today, he is feeling comfortable and we are confident he will be out there as well tomorrow. I would say those two guys are pretty much 100%.

"There is no medical reason why they wouldn't be playing - and it's pretty hard for me to stop them if that's the case."

Leinster have the opportunity to match the so far unequalled feat of Leicester's all-conquering 2001 and 2002 team in defending the Heineken Cup title.

And as captain Leo Cullen noted, they also have a chance to establish their own Dublin dynasty with a third triumph in four years.

He said: "When we won against Leicester (in 2009), Leinster had been going through a tough period for 10 or 12 years and there was a feeling of relief more than anything else.

"Last year against Northampton was strange. It couldn't have gone much worse for us in the first half (as Leinster fell 22-6 down) and the turnaround was so dramatic it was amazing.

"When you experience success it makes you more greedy and you want to experience those feelings all over again."

But hooker Rory Best says the pride Brian McLaughlin has instilled in the team, with its solid base of homegrown talent, just might give Ulster the edge on the day.

"A number of players have come through a lot at Ulster, a lot of players are born and bred and there is something special playing in a final for Ulster," Best said.

"Brian has hammered that home in his time at Ulster and every signing has bought into that. That is what has made us such a close team.

"It would be that bit extra special because Ulster rugby are so special to so many of us."

The final kicks off at 5pm on Saturday.

Ulster team:

Stefan Terblanche; Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, Paddy Wallace, Craig Gilroy; Paddy Jackson, Ruan Pienaar (1-8) Tom Court, Rory Best, John Afoa, Johann Muller (Captain), Dan Tuohy, Stephen Ferris, Chris Henry, Pedrie Wannenburg

Replacements: Nigel Brady, Paddy McAllister, Declan Fitzpatrick, Lewis Stevenson, Willie Faloon, Paul Marshall, Ian Humphreys, Adam D'Arcy

Leinster team:

Rob Kearney, Fergus McFadden, Brian O'Driscoll, Gordon D'Arcy, Isa Nacewa, Jonathan Sexton, Eoin Reddan, Cian Healy, Richardt Strauss, Mike Ross,Leo Cullen (Captain), Brad Thorn, Kevin McLaughlin, Sean O'Brien, Jamie Heaslip

Replacements: Sean Cronin, Heinke van der Merwe, Nathan White, Devin Toner, Shane Jennings, Isaac Boss, Ian Madigan, David Kearney.

© UTV News
Comments Comments
John in Belfast wrote (987 days ago):
Good Luck to both teams, at least we will have an Irish win of the Heineken cup, who ever wins
Uladh Abu in County Armagh wrote (987 days ago):
Good luck to Ulster in the very first unique 'All-Irish' final! :D Doing all 9 counties of Ulster proud, regardless of the end result later.
Jay in London wrote (987 days ago):
I would say Leinster is going to win. They are the better team. The streets here in London are full of tricolour as are the pubs and leinster flag. Enjoy the day anyway, Congratulations on Ulster for making it to the final.
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