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McLaughlin is Ulster’s main man

Guinness PRO12 Editor

7 Apr 2011

His players may be gaining the credit for an impressive season to date but Ulster head coach Brian McLaughlin deserves a substantial share of the plaudits according to a former Ravenhill boss.

Ulster currently sit second in the Magners League table with just three regular season games remaining, meaning a home Play-Off semi-final is well within their grasp.

A enviable record of 13 wins and a draw in their 19 Magners League matches so far this term has been matched by an equally eye catching five victories from six attempts in European competition.

Home and away triumphs over Aironi and English giants Bath, together with a Ravenhill win over last year’s beaten finalists Biarritz, has led to a Heineken Cup quarter final against Northampton Saints this weekend.

It marks the first time the Belfast boys have made it to the knockout stages of continental competition since their famous title-winning season of 1999 and the man who led them to glory 12 years ago believes greater credit should be given to Ulster’s current coaching supremo.

"Brian has done a fantastic job with Ulster," Harry Williams told the Irish Independent.

"The key is that he understands the Ulster psyche. To me there is no one in the world like an Ulsterman, and he has a knowledge of how to make them work.

"The South African guys have come in and do what they do, but Brian has got the Ulster guys going and the squad seems to be like a big family at the moment.”

And Williams, who ensured Ulster beat both Munster and Leinster to the title of first the Irish European Kings, believes McLaughlin’s men have what it takes to match that achievement this time around.

Travelling to top seeds Northampton might not be the easiest tasks but five Magners League wins on the bounce suggests this current crop of Ulster stars are combining god form with a knowledge of how to win.

"Ruan Pienaar gets better and better, Ian Humphreys is in form and Nevin Spence excites me, and don't forget Andrew Trimble, who is a dangerous winger,” added Williams.

"None of our players have been in this situation before, but that was the case in 1999 and we handled it then. Brian's team can do the same."

As for McLaughlin himself, Ulster’s present guiding light shares a similar sentiment when he suggests that rescuing victory from the jaws of defeat is a trait his side seem to have developed over recent weeks.

The performances over recent rounds might not have quite lived up to Ulster’s growing expectations, with Ruan Pienaar’s late heroics saving them from being turned over by both Glasgow and the Dragons last month, but winning ugly is no bad characteristic to develop at the business end of the season.

“I think last season at times we lost games we should have won, no doubt about that,” said McLaughlin.

“Recently games have been exceptionally tight and yes, we mightn’t have been at our best, but we’ve classed them all as cup games and we feel that’s got to be the attitude and the winning mentality we’ve got to have.

“We’ve made no secret of it over the last few months that the people we’ve brought in as leaders and the people we already had here as leaders have linked very well together.

“We’ve a great team spirit, we’ve developed a super culture and we feel that’s benefiting us on the pitch. We’re able to grind out more results now. Our mentality is that we’re going on to the pitch to win.”