Eoin Reddan believes Ulster have not been afforded the respect they deserve this season and warned the Heineken Cup final in Twickenham will not be the procession many predict for Leinster.
Underachievers for so long after claiming their 1999 European title, there is a widely-held belief that the Ravenhill outfit have overachieved in reaching the May 19 decider. But Reddan believes it is time to give credit where it is due.
“Ulster have proven themselves over and over again this year and probably more so to us [players] than the media,” he said at the launch of the 19th Annual Bloomsday Messenger Bike Rally in aid of the Irish Youth Foundation. “The media say, ‘oh, they’re up. They’re down. Will they lose to Edinburgh?’ We always knew they would win that semi-final and we have massive respect for them as an organisation. They have achieved a huge amount this year. They will be absolutely going for it in the final. As will we. It will be a great game.”
Well, a great occasion anyway, and one unique in the short history of Irish professional rugby, but finals tend to be scrappy and nervous occasions where the thought of losing can stifle freedom of expression. The fear is that such constraints may increase among two teams so familiar with one another. But Reddan doesn’t see it that way.
“Players will get beyond that. It will be tough but things like knowing each other from [Ireland] camp won’t have anything to do with it. We have played each other plenty of times and had some great games against each other. The intensity is going to be huge.”
For Reddan, the London venue will give rise to fond memories while simultaneously serving as a warning.
It was in Twickenham in 2007 where the Limerick scrum-half won his first Heineken Cup title with a Wasps side which, like Ulster, were rank underdogs, beating a Leicester Tigers outfit bidding to complete a Premiership, EDF Cup and European Cup treble.
Reddan scored Wasps’ first try that day and the words of captain Lawrence Dallaglio afterwards make for interesting reading five years later ahead of a final where only one result is being countenanced by the experts.
“Everyone was talking about the Leicester guys,” said the 2003 World Cup winner. “They’ve had a fantastic season but when you’re underdogs it pumps you up.”
Yet, times change. That win for Wasps was England’s fifth title in just eight seasons. It was also their last. Ireland has taken up the mantle of tournament specialists from the English and French with a fifth winner in seven years guaranteed on May 19.
The instinct is to enjoy it while it lasts but Reddan insists there is no reason why that can’t be for a considerable time given the structures and personnel available to provinces who ensure this country continues to punch above its weight in the club game.
“It’s coming from the pool of players,” Reddan said of the success. “We have as good a player pool as any and the provinces are well organised and produce good players over and over again. The bulk of those players are Irish as well. Hopefully it can continue.A lot of players are coming through and pushing through. Mix that with experience and there is no reason why we can’t continue in the same vein between the provinces.”
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