Familiar foes Ulster and Stade Francais have a long history in the Heineken Cup, having been drawn together in the pool stages on no fewer than four occasions. The sides will meet again this Saturday in a mouth-watering tussle at Ravenhill (kick-off 1.35pm).
Ominously for Stade Francais, the home side has come out on top in all bar one of their eight encounters.
Remember David Humphreys’ outstanding try against Stade in the 1999 European Cup semi-final? Or Kieran Campbell’s terrific solo effort against the French outfit in 2004? More of the same would do nicely for Brian McLaughlin’s men this weekend.
Ulster have shown their capabilities with 19-16, 22-10 and 18-10 victories at Ravenhill in 2002/03, 2003/04 and 2004/05, although when Stade travelled to Belfast last season they were comfortable 26-10 victors on the opening weekend of the competition.
Having himself played and coached in France with current Top 14 leaders Castres, Ulster forwards coach Jeremy Davidson knows the French mentality better than most.
And although he admits that the statistics suggest French sides in general do not perform to their best away from home, he insists that the Ulster players will not be taking a complacent attitude come Saturday afternoon.
“I think one of the down sides of French rugby has become a sort of tradition – they don’t travel well, especially overseas,” he said.
“Although, with the higher level of professionalism today, this is having much less of an impact as you can see with the Bath game when Stade just pipped them (29-27) in the last few moments.
“The French are very, very passionate about rugby, and French rugby teams historically have based their game around a big pack of forwards dominating and winning the ball, then out in the backs they have the French flair for throwing the ball around.
“Stade Francais exemplify this ethos to a tee – they play a real French style of rugby even though they have been coached by some foreign coaches over the past few years.
“They have also managed to keep a nucleus of French national players in their squad together with a number of top foreign internationals added for good measure.
“Their set piece is very dominant, their scrum, lineout, the maul and then out in the backs they are lucky to have a vast amount of talent to call upon, such as Lionel Beauxis at out-half, Julien Dupuy at scrum half and Mathieu Bastareaud, the big French centre. It is not surprising they have a tremendous running game.
“So, really it is a complete package you come up against whenever you are playing a team of this calibre from the French league.”
Qualification for the quarter-finals from Pool 4 is still very much in the balance after the opening two rounds of European action.
Stade top the group after an unbeaten start to their campaign, while Ulster crushed Bath 26-12 on the first weekend before slipping to defeat at Edinburgh a week later.
Saturday’s home game against Stade could prove decisive in the province’s quest to reach the last-eight for the first time since they were crowned European champions back in 1999. They are currently four points behind Stade, in second place.
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