Ulster head coach Brian McLaughlin has named a 29-man squad from which he will pick the team to face Biarritz Olympique at Ravenhill on Saturday (kick-off 3.30pm).
Aiming to reach the quarter-final stage of the Heineken Cup for the first time since 1999, Ulster take on Pool 4 leaders Biarritz this Saturday and nothing but a win will do for Brian McLaughlin’s men.
McLaughlin’s selected squad is along expected lines and he looks set to stick with the panel that was on duty for last weekend’s Magners League win over Benetton Treviso.
Scrum half Ruan Pienaar has recovered from the rib injury that forced him off at half-time against Treviso, and winger Andrew Trimble, who suffered a back spasm, is fit and available for selection.
Influential flanker Stephen Ferris made his comeback from a leg injury against the Italians, successfully coming through a 33-minute appearance as a replacement.
Biarritz have a three-point buffer over Ulster but have already slipped up once on the road in this season’s competition when they went down 28-27 to Italian newcomers Aironi Rugby.
McLaughlin said: “Getting to the Heineken Cup quarter-finals has been one of our prime objectives for the season – it is most certainly where we want to be.
“From an Ulster Rugby perspective, the match against Biarritz is an extremely important game because with the way the pool has gone we have it all to play for – there are two games left and they are two games we must win.
“However, Biarritz are an extremely strong side, they have a great pedigree in the Heineken Cup, they were last season’s beaten finalists and have openly stated they want to win this tournament.
“In players like Imanol Harinordoquy, Dimitri Yachvili and Damien Traille they have some smashing individuals and we are under no illusions that we are in for an extremely tough game.
“Biarritz are a top quality side, no doubt about that, and although they had a little hiccup when they lost at Aironi, they will come here looking for the win – I believe it is going to be a smashing game.
“That said, we have a proud home record in Europe over last two seasons, winning our last seven Heineken Cup matches at Ravenhill, and I am sure we will give Biarritz a warm Belfast welcome.
“We know what we have to try and do, which is to get the win we need and go to Aironi to play for a quarter-final place.”
The Ulster team and replacement for the round 5 fixture will be named on Friday afternoon.
Tickets for the match are still available to purchase by clicking here, although come Saturday, Ulster Rugby are expecting a capacity crowd.
Supporters coming to the game (gates open 2pm) are advised to avoid parking in the immediate vicinity of the Ravenhill grounds where restrictions may be in place, and instead make use of the Park ‘n’ Ride facilities at Pirrie Park and along Montgomery Road.
For supporters interested in using public transport from the city centre, there is also a Translink Metro service running from Chichester Street to Forestside along the Cregagh Road, which stops at Onslow Parade and from there it is just a short walk to the ground. Journey time is approximately 10 to 12 minutes. For more details, please visit www.translink.co.uk.
ULSTER Squad (v Biarritz Olympique) – Backs (12): Adam D’Arcy, David McIlwaine, Jamie Smith, Mark McCrea, Andrew Trimble, Simon Danielli, Paddy Wallace, Nevin Spence, Ian Whitten, Ian Humphreys, Paul Marshall, Ruan Pienaar.
Forwards (17): Tom Court, Declan Fitzpatrick, Jerry Cronin, Bryan Young, BJ Botha, Rory Best, Nigel Brady, Andi Kyriacou, Tim Barker, Neil McComb, Dan Tuohy, Johann Muller, Thomas Anderson, Chris Henry, Willie Faloon, Pedrie Wannenburg, Stephen Ferris.