Ten years have past since Ulster’s famous European Cup success at Lansdowne Road. Coming into this season’s competition buoyed by two successive bonus point wins, a new era is dawning at Ravenhill with Brian McLaughlin at the helm and the province looked primed for a big performance against Bath on Friday night.
HEINEKEN CUP: POOL 6: Friday, October 9
ULSTER v BATH, Ravenhill, 7.30pm
Team News: Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin has named a virtually unchanged starting line-up for Friday’s Heineken Cup Pool 4 clash with Bath at Ravenhill.
The only change from the team that started last week’s win over the Scarlets is in the pack, and sees the Irish-qualified Andy Kyriacou come in at hooker for Nigel Brady.
Grand Slam winner Paddy Wallace will once again captain his province in the absence of the injured Rory Best.
As per Heineken Cup rules, the replacements bench includes a third prop.
Commenting on what he is expecting on Friday night, McLaughlin said: “We have got to raise our performance. You have to remember that in the Heineken Cup all of the teams are upping their game, aiming to play better and really wanting to get results.
“So it’s an opportunity for us to see exactly how far we have travelled.
“You look at the tournament and the teams you are coming up against and it’s obvious it is a ferocious competition – there’s not one bad team in it. All of the games are going to be tough.”
Meanwhile, for his team’s European opener, Bath coach Steve Meehan has made four changes to the side that lost 13-11 to Harlequins last time out in the Guinness Premiership.
Ryan Davis comes in for Nicky Little at out-half, while 2009 Lion Lee Mears, Danny Grewcock and Jonny Faamatuainu will take their places in a reshuffled pack.
Davis will be given a chance to impress in Belfast after struggling with his place-kicking earlier in the campaign.
Fijian international Little will be joined in the visitors’ bench by hooker Pieter Dixon, lock Peter Short and number 8 Ben Skirving.
ULSTER: Clinton Schifcofske; Timoci Nagusa, Darren Cave, Paddy Wallace (capt), Andrew Trimble; Ian Humphreys, Isaac Boss; Tom Court, Andy Kyriacou, BJ Botha, Ed O’Donoghue, Ryan Caldwell, Stephen Ferris, Willie Faloon, Robbie Diack.
Replacements: Nigel Brady, Bryan Young, Declan Fitzpatrick, Neil McComb, Chris Henry, Paul Marshall, Ian Whitten, Simon Danielli.
BATH: Nick Abendanon; Joe Maddock, Matt Carraro, Shontayne Hape, Matt Banahan; Ryan Davis, Michael Claassens (capt); David Flatman, Lee Mears, Duncan Bell, Stuart Hooper, Danny Grewcock, Andy Beattie, Julian Salvi, Jonny Faamatuainu.
Replacements: Pieter Dixon, David Barnes, Aaron Jarvis, Peter Short, Ben Skirving, Scott Bemand, Nicky Little, Jack Cuthbert.
Referee: James Jones (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Nigel Whitehouse, Jonathan Mason (both Wales)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ulster to win: 4/5; Draw: 18/1; Bath to win: Evens
Pre-Match Quotes: Paddy Wallace (Ulster) – “Our focus is on Bath at the moment, we have Edinburgh the following week. We won’t look too far ahead – we want to take care of Bath on Friday.
“Bath are coming off a turbulent off-season. They’ve had a few problems in the club, obviously they lost four key players.
“But at the same time, I think that’s binding them together into a very tight unit. I’ve no doubt they’ll be focused on trying to beat us and getting their Heineken Cup campaign off to a good start in Belfast.
“We can’t take any complacency from the last two games into this match, and we have to come out all guns firing and sew that seed of doubt that Bath may have, having not started the season as well as they would have liked to.
“Regardless of league form, Bath are very capable of delivering performances on the day and certainly beating any team. As I’ve said, there’ll be no complacency from our end, going into the match.
“We’re in good shape. The brand of rugby we’re playing is much improved and much more entertaining for the fans.
“That’s spread from the confidence of the coaches that they have in the players. Brian is willing to pick young guys and through them in and give them their rewards if they play well, because he’s not scared of dropping more of the senior players as well.
“That confidence that Brian and the rest of the coaching team put in the players is really shining through.”
Steve Meehan (Bath) – “We are still in touching distance of the top four at the moment and to win the Guinness Premiership it’s the minimum you need to achieve. So we were two points behind ‘Quins, two points behind Wasps and we drew with Leicester.
“There is a lot of rugby left in the Premiership and our next two matches are at home too.
“The Heineken Cup brings a different focus for the guys. It is a two week sprint as opposed to having five or six matches, and everyone starts with level points, so there is an opportunity there.
“Having said that, Friday night at Ravenhill will always be difficult.
“We are going to be faced with challenges against Ulster, so it doesn’t get any easier. But it is nice to have a new focus and drive.”
Current Form – Ulster – (Magners League): Lost 23-6 away to the Newport Gwent Dragons; Won 20-16 away to the Ospreys; Lost 16-13 at home to Edinburgh; Won 30-6 away to Connacht; Won 45-24 at home to the Scarlets
Bath – (Guinness Premiership): Lost 24-5 away to Gloucester; Lost 17-15 at home to London Wasps; Won 25-12 away to Sale Sharks; Drew 20-20 at home to Leicester Tigers; Lost 13-11 away to Harlequins
Previous European Meetings: 0
Heineken Cup Records:
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
2008/09: Reached the quarter-finals
2005/06: Reached the semi-finals
2004/05: Failed to qualify from Pool 2
2001/02: Reached the quarter-finals
2000/01: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
1999/00: Failed to qualify from Pool 2
1996/97: Reached the quarter-finals