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European Champions Cup Preview: Leicester Tigers v Ulster

European Champions Cup Preview: Leicester Tigers v Ulster

Familiar foes lie in the way of Ulster and a winning start to the inaugural European Champions Cup. Nine months on from their 22-19 win at Welford Road, Rory Best and his team-mates return on the hunt for a similar result against Leicester.


LEICESTER TIGERS v ULSTER, Welford Road, 7.45pm (live BT Sport 2/BBC Radio Ulster MW/Newstalk/highlights TG4)

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Team News: The Ulster team has been announced for the province’s opening European Rugby Champions Cup match against Leicester Tigers at Welford Road on Saturday night.

Head coach Neil Doak has made three changes to the side that registered a 29-9 GUINNESS PRO12 success over Glasgow Warriors last weekend.

Ireland winger Andrew Trimble is unavailable for selection after picking up a toe injury in that win. Craig Gilroy comes into the side on the left wing, meaning Lions star Tommy Bowe switches to the right flank.

With Alan O’Connor suspended, Lewis Stevenson has been promoted from the bench to join Franco van der Merwe in the second row.

The final change to the starting line-up sees Paddy Jackson return to the out-half berth in place of Ian Humphreys.

Stuart McCloskey and Jared Payne continue their centre partnership, while Paul Marshall and Louis Ludik are retained at scrum half and full-back respectively.

Up front, captain Rory Best is again joined in the front row by Andrew Warwick and Wiehahn Herbst, both of whom will make their European debuts. Ireland internationals Robbie Diack and Chris Henry are selected in the back row alongside number 8 Nick Williams.

Doak has plenty of creativity on the bench in the form of backs Michael Heaney, Stuart Olding and Darren Cave. Rob Herring, Callum Black, Declan Fitzpatrick, Clive Ross and Roger Wilson are the forward replacements.

Saturday’s much-anticipated match will be televised live on BT Sport 2 and is also available on BBC Radio Ulster MW.

Meanwhile, Marcos Ayerza has been recalled to the Leicester Tigers starting line-up for Saturday’s Champions Cup showdown with the Ulstermen.

Argentinian loosehead prop Ayerza made his first club appearance of the season as a second half replacement during last Friday’s 22-16 win at home to Harlequins. He played in all six of the Pumas’ recent Rugby Championship games.

The 31-year-old returns to the Leicester front row alongside Leonardo Ghiraldini and Fraser Balmain, as the the only change in personnel as Tigers begin the new European competition at home.

LEICESTER TIGERS: Mathew Tait; Blaine Scully, Manu Tuilagi, Owen Williams, Vereniki Goneva; Freddie Burns, Ben Youngs (capt); Marcos Ayerza, Leonardo Ghiraldini, Fraser Balmain, Brad Thorn, Graham Kitchener, Jamie Gibson, Julian Salvi, Jordan Crane.

Replacements: Harry Thacker, Michele Rizzo, Tiziano Pasquali, Sebastian de Chaves, Robert Barbieri, David Mele, Sam Harrison, Miles Benjamin.

ULSTER: Louis Ludik; Tommy Bowe, Jared Payne, Stuart McCloskey, Craig Gilroy; Paddy Jackson, Paul Marshall; Andrew Warwick, Rory Best (capt), Wiehahn Herbst, Lewis Stevenson, Franco van der Merwe, Robbie Diack, Chris Henry, Nick Williams.

Replacements: Rob Herring, Callum Black, Declan Fitzpatrick, Clive Ross, Roger Wilson, Michael Heaney, Stuart Olding, Darren Cave.

Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant Referees: Christophe Berdos, Stéphane Boyer (both France)
Television Match Official: Bernard dal Maso (France)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Leicester Tigers to win: 4/7; Draw: 20/1; Ulster to win: 13/10

Pre-Match Quotes: Neil Doak (Ulster) – “I’ve been involved the last number of years in European games and, obviously, having beating Leicester at home and away last year, we are looking forward to that big challenge at Welford Road.

“We know what to expect, there is amazing excitement about this fixture and all European games. Last week was a huge week training-wise as we had aligned it that we had three big ‘European’ games on the bounce and we looked at the data on what both Glasgow and Leicester brought to the game and their intensity.

“So, we knew last week what our physicality and commitment was gong to have to be to win these big games and that certainly showed in abundance last Saturday against the Warriors.

“There is no doubt you have to take another step forward. There is no point in pulling one big game out of the bag, bringing that level of intensity and then not doing exactly the same this week. It has to be the same plus 10-fold more intensity. Welford Road is not an easy place to go, everyone knows that.

“Like Glasgow, Leicester are very physical. You just have to look at All Black Brad Thorn, at 39, playing against Harlequins last week to see just how physical they are going to be.

“It is going to be a phenomenal battle up front and obviously whoever gets that little edge will win the game.”

Mathew Tait (Leicester Tigers) – “Myself, Blaine Scully, Miles Benjamin and Niki Goneva do a lot of work on our high-ball game and we pride ourselves on that, particularly going into the Ulster game. They are a side that do a lot of kicking.

“We won the territorial battle (against Harlequins) last Friday and we will have to do the same again against Ulster. There may be a bit more kicking than people would like to see but it is all about winning the game for us.

“Ruan Pienaar will be a big loss for them out injured, he dictates what they do. They have been going well in the PRO12 though and they play a pressurised game. We are expecting an aerial bombardment.

“It’s going to be a testing challenge and we will relish it. We know how they like to play the game with aerial threats like Craig Gilroy and Tommy Bowe, but we will bring our own threats.

“It will be an interesting game and there will be some pressure on. It puts pressure on you knowing when to kick and when to run and a lot of that will be dictated to by the conditions.

“The forecast says it is going to be miserable, so whoever controls the territory and makes the most of that will probably win.

“It’s important to get the wins at home and try to pick up the odd win away. If you fluff your lines in the first two games, you are usually done for the tournament so it is a huge focus for us.”

Current Form – Leicester Tigers – (Aviva Premiership): Won 36-17 at home to Newcastle Falcons; Won 24-20 away to Exeter Chiefs; Lost 45-0 away to Bath; Lost 22-19 at home to London Irish; Lost 33-16 away to Gloucester; Won 22-16 at home to Harlequins

Ulster – (GUINNESS PRO12): Drew 32-32 away to the Scarlets; Won 33-13 at home to Zebre; Won 26-9 away to Cardiff Blues; Lost 13-6 away to Zebre; Won 30-0 at home to Edinburgh; Won 29-9 at home to Glasgow Warriors

Previous European Meetings: 6

Saturday, January 18, 2014 – Pool 5 – Leicester Tigers 19 Ulster 22, Welford Road
Friday, October 11, 2013 – Pool 5 – Ulster 22 Leicester Tigers 16, Ravenhill
Friday, January 13, 2011 – Pool 4 – Ulster 41 Leicester Tigers 7, Ravenhill
Saturday, November 19, 2011 – Pool 4 – Leicester Tigers 20 Ulster 9, Welford Road
Saturday, January 17, 2004 – Pool 1 – Leicester Tigers 49 Ulster 7, Welford Road
Sunday, January 11, 2004 – Pool 1 – Ulster 33 Leicester Tigers 0, Ravenhill

Match Facts –

– Before last season’s fixtures between these sides in the Heineken Cup, the previous four games had seen an average winning margin of 30 points (two wins apiece). Ulster have won the two games since with Leicester picking up losing bonus points

– Ulster won all six pool games last season, including two wins against Leicester Tigers

– Ulster averaged the fewest penalties conceded in the competition last season (8.3)

– Darren Cave provided the assists for four tries in the tournament last season, only Munster’s Conor Murray (5) assisted more

– Julian Salvi made 83 tackles last season, only three players made more but all played more games than Salvi

European Cup Records:

Leicester Tigers –
2013/14: Reached the quarter-finals
2012/13: Reached the quarter-finals
2011/12: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2010/11: Reached the quarter-finals
2009/10: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
2008/09: Runners-up
2007/08: Failed to qualify from Pool 6
2006/07: Runners-up
2005/06: Reached the quarter-finals
2004/05: Reached the semi-finals
2003/04: Failed to qualify from Pool 1
2002/03: Reached the quarter-finals
2001/02: Champions
2000/01: Champions
1999/00: Failed to qualify from Pool 1
1997/98: Reached the quarter-finals
1996/97: Runners-up

Ulster –
2013/14: Reached the quarter-finals
2012/13: Reached the quarter-finals
2011/12: Runners-up
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
1998/99: Champions
1997/98: Failed to qualify from Pool B
1996/97: Failed to qualify from Pool C
1995/96: Failed to qualify from Pool B