In the wake of Ulster’s spectacular comeback win over Munster on New Year’s Day the focus has switched quickly to Saturday’s Guinness PRO14 date with Leinster at the RDS.
Aaron Dundon, now the scrum coach in Les Kiss’s management team, is well- placed to assess just what awaits his new club, having been part of Leinster Heineken Cup and league-winning squads.
“They treat an interpro right up there with Europe,” said the 35-year-old Kiwi who joined Ulster from Grenoble last summer.
”Leinster want to win every interpro, they take extra pride in winning, home and away. Yes, it’s a competition outside the PRO14 competition but they want to win, and take pride in doing just that.”
Dundon knows the Irish game well, guiding Clontarf to two AIL titles before moving to France, and the former hooker knows that the all-important battle is fought up front and he jumped to the defence of the two Ulster props withdrawn at half-time against Munster which coincided with a complete turnaround in fortunes as the visitors saw a 17-0 interval lead overhauled.
On the selection of long-term injury casualties Kyle McCall and Rodney Ah You, Dundon admitted it had been a gamble. “It could have been a risk, yes, but we needed to get these boys match-fit for this weekend the two Champions Cup games coming up. These boys are too important to how we play, we need to give them game time.
“Kyle and Rodney struggled a bit, but they will be better for it,” said the scrum specialist who was closely involved in the decision to replace them with Callum Black and Wiehahn Herbst. “It was the right change. In the front row, in the scrum, we didn’t do what we planned to do. It was the same down in Connacht when we lost every aspect of the game. In the second half against Munster the boys changed, we did what was planned and stuck to it. Clearly with a bonus-try win we had a better outcome.
“We told the players we needed a response. What was pleasing was that we showed up in the second half, but if we just play in the second half against Leinster it won’t be good enough.”
Dundon was clearly frustrated at what he saw as a lack of aggression and of the right attitude in Galway and in the first 40 minutes against Munster. He feels the team has to go to another level.
“We’ve got to turn up at the RDS, we’ve got to want to play, get at them and bring the physicality that was missing for a game-and-a-half. There’s no bigger game than playing one of the best teams in Europe on their own patch. The players should have the right attitude for games like Leinster. You’re playing against fellow countrymen, your team-mates in many cases, these are the games you want to be at your best.”
Dundon said Ulster entered the New Year with an increasingly healthy and fully-fit squad. “We might not have to rotate so often, we might be in a position to play similar line-ups week in, week out. That builds confidence and attitude.”
He expects Jacob Stockdale and Iain Henderson to feature in Dublin after being rested, and flankers Sean Ready and Chris Henry are in contention in the pack. Irish skipper Rory Best is again an absentee with a blood infection, and lock Kieran Treadwell is a doubt. However Dundon indicated that centre Jared Payne — out since suffering a headache-related problem on the Lions tour — might be available soon. “Not this week, in another week or two, I’d say,” he said.
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