Rugby Union

Hopes high that Ulster rugby can continue winning run with victory over Munster

Ulster Rugby's Rory Best will start on the bench tonight against Munster. Picture by Arthur Allison: Pacemaker Press.
John Flack

WHILE Ulster will be without a few big hitters for tonight's PRO14 clash at Kingspan Stadium, Munster are more seriously depleted, so hopes will be high that Dan McFarland's men can make it six wins from the last seven in all competitions.

IRFU protocols dictate that wing sensation Jacob Stockdale is ruled out of the squad altogether, Iain Henderson is an injury victim while Ireland captain Rory Best will start on the bench.

However, McFarland is still able to call upon six out of the eight Ulster players who took part in the autumn internationals, with Rob Herring taking over the armband from Best.

Munster have made no fewer than 13 changes from the side that lost to Castres in Europe last weekend and among the absentees are Ireland quartet of CJ Stander, Conor Murray Paul O'Mahony and Joey Carbery.

Jordi Murphy is well used to the intensity of inter-pro contests but tonight's will be his first for Ulster, having moved north from Leinster in the summer and the Ireland flanker is relishing the challenge.

"The feeling during the week is very much the same as it was with Leinster, it's an inter-pro game against your rivals from just down the road so it doesn't get much bigger than that," he said.

"We have come off the back of a couple of good wins but we need to be backing that up now against Munster.

"You want the bragging rights against your neighbours. It's attritional, definitely up there with Champions Cup games.

"These boys are on the same island as us, they're only down the road. I'd love nothing more than putting on a good performance and getting the win."

Adding spice to the encounter, setting aside Ulster's desire to avenge a humiliating 64-7 loss at Thomond Park in September, is the fact the Six Nations is rapidly approaching.

"The coaches will be watching like they do most games and it's boys that are competing for your position in the Irish set-up," Murphy added.

"You'd be foolish to think it isn't a shop window. You look to play your best every game but there definitely is that little bit extra in the back of your mind when it's inter-pro games."

Murphy says he is enjoying life with Ulster and, even before he pulled on the white shirt for the first time, he insisted that his aim was to replicate at least some of the success he enjoyed with Leinster.

With Ulster entering a transitional stage when he arrived in Belfast following a raft of retirements, even the most fervent supporter might not have been as optimistic.

However, with a place in the knock-out stages of both the Champions Cup and the PRO14 within Ulster's grasp, the 27-year-old's words don't now seem so hollow.

"I meant what I said, I didn't come up here to partake but not do much. That's a thing Dan has said. We're ambitious, we want to be competing," he stressed.

"We make our goals and look to reach them and if we do, we push on again. Obviously, our goal has been to play some knock-out rugby in Europe and the league.

"We're doing the right things at the moment but if were to stop now we'd be feeling pretty sorry for ourselves in three or four months.

"I'm really looking forward to the next few weeks and definitely being in a position to win championships."

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