ONE BY ONE Ulster players and coaches pursed their lips and nodded along, making the effort to remain stoic and avoid being dragged down by the weight of some foreboding statistics.

We’ve now been through six years of Pro12 semi-finals, and all 12 have been won by the home team. Compounding matters, Ulster have their own unwanted habit of falling in or around the final hurdle – more often than not at the hands of Leinster in the RDS – and that does little to engender bullish confidence either.

And yet there is a steely resilience about this team and they are buoyed byfour straight victories in the run-in to the play-offs including a comprehensive win over their M1-linked rivals three weeks ago. Rory Best has just never seen the point in not facing negatives head on and getting them out of the way.

“They’re a quality side that’s used to winning play-off games, they’re probably used to beating us in play-off games,” Best says in praise of Leinster while overlooking the pitch where they were beaten all ends up on 30 April.

“The flip-side of that is that they’re at home, the top-ranked team in the competition. So there is a bit of pressure on them to perform. Historically, there’s never been a team to win an away semi-final. We feel we’re geared up and we want to be the first team to do that.

He added:”It’s one that we feel we’re up for and in a good place to overcome At the same time, the pressure’s on them, it’s their home semi-final and no one’s ever lost one.”

Director of rugby Les Kiss is priming his team to smash that quirk of the competition tomorrow night. The Australian also veered into a swamp of data to highlight the uphill struggle of playing in the RDS, but with a view to distilling the semi-final back down to what it means in the here and now to the province.

Kiss warms his side up before a disappointing defeat in the RDS in November. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“Every year we’ve got to the play-offs we’ve felt we’re geared up to win it. This year’s no different — the difference in previous years is probably that we’d get to the end of the season and whoever’s left standing takes the field.

“We get injuries leading into it and we’re hanging on by a thread. We were nearly peaking at Christmas, New Year and after that everyone’s battered and bruised.

“This year it feels different. We’ve got almost a full squad. Bar a couple of big players, it’s been a settled 23 over the last three or four games with only one or two missing out.

“Now we’re back and it’s a young, exciting bunch of players up here. It’s infectious to be around and you feel you’re enjoying playing rugby again.”

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