18 May, 11:09
IRFU Chief Executive Philip Browne has issued a statement following confirmation of Ronan O'Gara's decision to retire from playing professional rugby.
ULSTER v CASTRES OLYMPIQUE, Ravenhill, 8pm (live Sky Sports 3/HD3/BBC Radio Ulster MWNewstalk)
Team News: Young back rower Iain Henderson will make his home debut for Ulster in Friday's Heineken Cup Pool 4 opener against Castres Olympique at Ravenhill.
Nick Williams has failed to recover from a rib injury picked up in the 25-0 league win over Connacht, so Iain Henderson will make his fourth appearance for the province and his first ever in the Heineken Cup.
It follows yesterday's news that the 20-year-old has signed his first full contract, keeping him at Ulster until at least June 2015.
Henderson's inclusion at blindside flanker will mean Stephen Ferris switches to the number 8 position. The rest of the team is unchanged from last Friday's derby victory over Connacht.
The only change on the replacements bench will see Ruan Pienaar, who returned from Rugby Championship duty with South Africa earlier in the week, taking over from Michael Heaney.
After missing most of last season with an Achilles tendon injury, full-back Jared Payne will also make his European bow.
Looking ahead to the game, Henderson said: "I can't wait. I've been watching games at Ravenhill since I was a kid and I'm really looking forward to pulling on the white jersey and experiencing the atmosphere as a player.
"My first aim for the season was to be involved in a few PRO12 games but with the few injuries that we have in the back row, I've been given an opportunity and I have to try and grab it with both hands.
"Castres are a very physical team but they also throw the ball wide and have an expansive kicking game. That should make for a tough but entertaining game. We'll have to work really hard to nullify their threats."
Castres currently occupy sixth position in the Top 14 having beaten Clermont Auvergne last weekend, and with Ulster undefeated in the RaboDirect PRO12, it promises to be a tantalising clash.
Former Ravenhill crowd favourite Pedrie Wannenburg will line out for the French side, donning the number 8 jersey for a fascinating individual tussle with Ferris.
Romain Teulet kicked Castres to a hard-fought 16-13 home victory over Clermont, but for the trip to Belfast there are only six survivors from that victorious side.
Coaching duo Lurent Travers and Laurent Labit have decided to bench the Top 14's leading points scorer, Rory Kockott, with Thierry Lacrompe combining with Pierre Bernard at half-back.
Joe Tekori is another big name listed on a strong bench, while the visitors' starting back-line includes England 'A' international Marcel Garvey, Kiwi talent Daniel Kirkpatrick and Fijian star Seremaia Bai.
Matthias Rolland captains team from the second row, alongside the equally experienced Rodrigo Capo Ortega from Uruguay.
ULSTER: Jared Payne; Tommy Bowe, Darren Cave, Paddy Wallace, Andrew Trimble; Paddy Jackson, Paul Marshall; Tom Court, Rory Best, John Afoa, Johann Muller (capt), Dan Tuohy, Iain Henderson, Chris Henry, Stephen Ferris.
Replacements: Rob Herring, Callum Black, Adam Macklin, Lewis Stevenson, Mike McComish, Ruan Pienaar, Luke Marshall, Craig Gilroy.
CASTRES OLYMPIQUE: Romain Teulet; Marcel Garvey, Daniel Kirkpatrick, Seremaia Bai, Marc Andreu; Pierre Bernard, Thierry Lacrampe; Yannick Forestier, Mathieu Bonello, Michaël Coetzee, Matthias Rolland (capt), Rodrigo Capo Ortega, Piula Faasalele, Yannick Caballero, Pedrie Wannenburg.
Replacements: Marc-Antoine Rallier, Grégory Marmoiton, Mihaïta Lazar, Joe Tekori, Rory Kockott, Antonie Claassen, Paul Bonnefond, Thomas Sanchou.
Referee: Andrew Small (England)
Assistant Referees: Martin Fox, Stuart Terheege (both England)
Television Match Official: Geoff Warren (England)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ulster to win: 1/7; Draw: 22/1; Castres Olympique to win: 5/1
Pre-Match Quotes: Darren Cave (Ulster) - "After the (Heineken Cup) final in May I tried not to be too down, I thought there was nothing to be down about as Leinster were the best team on the day and the best team in Europe.
"At the end of the day to come second fiddle to them wasn't the end of the world and I felt straight away after the final that we were going to be a better team this year.
"We had so many good players and then we got the new signings and a new coach coming in and with a full pre-season behind us all that made me feel that we just were going to be better.
"I think that, of course, there is that extra pressure this year but you've got to try and use it to your advantage.
"I think we exceeded our expectations by getting to the final and I think everyone expects us to get back to the final again and maybe win it this year.
"That may or may not be the case but, you know, I'd rather be in the situation where people in Ulster are expecting big things of the team than the way it was a few years ago when people were happy if we won our three homes games in the pool."
Pedrie Wannenburg (Castres Olympique) - "It'll be nice to have a reunion with the boys, except this time I'll be on the opposite side.
"Belfast will always be close to my heart because it was a fresh start for me. I learned a lot when I played in Ulster. I learned to enjoy the game again.
"I knew if I played well, everything else can go to plan. But the most important part was learning how to enjoy playing rugby again.
"(This Castres team) we will go out and give it our best shot at Ravenhill on Friday night. We're prepared and looking forward to it.
"It's always hard to start a competition away from home, against a team who reached the final last year and at Ravenhill as well. We'll give it our best shot."
Current Form - Ulster - (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 18-10 at home to Glasgow Warriors; Won 16-13 away to the Ospreys; Won 20-19 at home to Munster; Won 48-19 away to the Cardiff Blues; Won 25-0 at home to Connacht
Castres Olympique - (Top 14 Championship): Lost 23-22 away to Toulouse; Won 30-13 at home to Grenoble; Won 31-10 at home to Bayonne; Drew 20-20 away to Stade Francais; Won 28-13 at home to Biarritz Olympique; Lost 33-12 away to Toulon; Lost 19-12 away to Montpellier; Won 16-13 at home to Clermont Auvergne
Previous European Meetings: 0
Match Facts And Figures -
- Johann Muller and Craig Gilroy both played in every minute of Ulster's 2011/12 Heineken Cup campaign, which lasted nine matches up to the final
- Castres Olympique missed an average of 16.8 tackles per match in last season's Heineken Cup, the second worst total after former Italian side Aironi
- Castres had the second poorest lineout unit in the Heineken Cup last season, winning just 79% of ball on their own throw
- Ulster lost two matches on their way to the Heineken Cup final last season, which also resulted in a third defeat in nine matches
- Ulster have faced French opposition more often than any other nation in the Heineken Cup, winning 13, drawing one and losing 19 of their ties
- Ulster have won their last 12 home games in this competition, with their last Heineken Cup defeat at Ravenhill coming against Stade Francais back in 2008
- Castres conceded 102 points in their three away games last year, scoring just 33 in reply and losing all three encounters (v Scarlets, Northampton Saints and Munster)
- The French side have not won on the road in Europe since dismantling Rugby Rovigo 76-11 in Italy in 2009 (Amlin Challenge Cup)
- Their only victory away from home in the Heineken Cup since their run to the semi-finals during the 2001/02 campaign was against Benetton Treviso in 2007
- Johann Muller won 52 lineouts last season (including three steals), 18 more than any other player in the competition. In addition, Rory Best threw more successful lineouts (99) than any other player last season, achieving an 86% throw success rate in the process
- Castres have lost 10 of their 14 Heineken Cup meetings with Irish opposition. Only against Scottish outfits (25%) do they have a lower win percentage rate than against Irish sides (29%)
Heineken Cup Records:
2010/11: Reached the quarter-finals
2009/10: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2008/09: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2007/08: Failed to qualify from Pool 2
2006/07: Failed to qualify from Pool 5
2005/06: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2004/05: Failed to qualify from Pool 6
2003/04: Failed to qualify from Pool 1
2002/03: Failed to qualify from Pool 6
2001/02: Failed to qualify from Pool 2
2000/01: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
1999/00: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
1997/98: Failed to qualify from Pool B
1996/97: Failed to qualify from Pool C
1995/96: Failed to qualify from Pool B
Castres Olympique -
2011/12: Failed to qualify from Pool 1
2010/11: Failed to qualify from Pool 1
2008/09: Failed to qualify from Pool 2
2006/07: Failed to qualify from Pool 1
2005/06: Failed to qualify from Pool 1
2004/05: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2001/02: Reached the semi-finals
2000/01: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
1995/96: Failed to qualify from Pool D
|19/1/13||Castres Olympique||8 - 9||Ulster Rugby||7,632|
|12/10/12||Ulster Rugby||41 - 17||Castres Olympique||11,451|