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Optimism no longer an alien prospect for Ulster as they prepare to face Munster at Thomond Park

Ulster have announced current Western Force forwards coach Jimmy Duffy will be at the Kingspan Stadium for next season

A play-off place secured last time out by beating Leinster and now with four wins at Ulster’s backs, no longer is a sense of optimism an entirely alien prospect at the northern province.

Though not quite all is entirely upbeat as a place at the table for next season’s Champions Cup is still not nailed down, Richie Murphy’s Ulster will at least journey to Thomond Park this weekend in a decent enough headspace.

With a number of scenarios in play in terms of where the northern province ultimately finish in the table, they will at least know exactly what is required of them against current table-toppers Munster when the sides take to the pitch such is the way the fixtures fall for this last round of regulation games.

But with current URC champions Munster bidding to finish at the summit and or at the very least pocket a top-two finish – they are just three points ahead of Leinster in third and Glasgow in fourth – to head into the knockout stages with nine straight league victories in their locker, this will clearly be an enormously challenging prospect for the visitors to Limerick.

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“We’re starting to find a little form,” said Ulster assistant coach Jonny Bell. “We’re playing the defending champions in their own backyard, so huge amount of respect for Munster, but it’s about us gaining momentum.

“We can look at all the permutations there are about getting into the Champions Cup, but we have to focus on our own game and not go to Thomond Park and get slightly sidetracked.

“We’ll know what we need to do so that is an advantage for the boys, but I think they’ll be fully focused on going to war against Munster.

Bell added: “Munster will be all guns blazing going for that top spot and we want to get ourselves into a good spot. It’s all to play for.

“[After Munster] We’ll find out then who’s next.”

Ahead of this weekend’s action, Ulster have announced current Western Force forwards coach Jimmy Duffy will be at the Kingspan Stadium for next season and the former Connacht and Ireland U20s assistant coach will be alongside young Irish-qualified outhalf Aidan Morgan whose much-predicted departure from the Hurricanes was finally revealed earlier this week.

Duffy will work alongside current forwards coach Roddy Grant and will presumably target Ulster’s scrummaging, an area that has been without a specialist since Dan McFarland’s departure.

“There was a need to bring someone in from a scrum perspective and add another forward because (coaching wise) we’re a bit backs heavy and (it will) take some of the load off Roddy [Grant],” stated Bell.

“Richie knows him [Duffy] well and worked with him at the 20s. He [Duffy] can only add value.”

As will be the case with the arrival of Morgan who Bell feels will bring something different to the 10 role in the wake of Billy Burns’s move to Munster.

“There’s no secret that it’s about bringing young players through,” said Bell.

“Richie has a history of working with young players and Aidan is young, Irish-qualified and exciting. He’s the type of 10 who wants to attack with the ball and is a competitor. That is the model going forward.

“You could go out and try to recruit a 35-year-old or 30-year-old but that’s not the route we want to go down.

“Aidan will enhance our stock and make us more competitive and drive the competitive nature within the squad already. That’s an exciting thing for us.

“Having spoken to some people down in New Zealand, they’re disappointed to see him go as he’s an exciting prospect,” added Bell.

Meanwhile, Robert Baloucoune is expected to still be missing for Saturday’s game due to injury.

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