Ulster head coach Neil Doak says ‘we have nothing to lose’ and that ‘the pressure is on Toulon’ as they resume their Champions Cup campaign at the Stade Félix Mayol – the home of the current Pool 3 leaders and reigning European champions.
EUROPEAN CHAMPIONS CUP POOL 3: Saturday, January 17
TOULON (1st) v ULSTER (4th), Stade Félix Mayol, 4.15pm local time/3.15pm Irish time (live Sky Sports 2 HD/BBC Radio Ulster/highlights TG4)
Team News: Darren Cave will play his 150th game for Ulster on Saturday as the province take on Toulon in the European Champions Cup at the Stade Félix Mayol.
The selected team sees seven changes and two positional switches to the side that beat Benetton Treviso in Italy last Sunday. Ireland international Jared Payne starts at full-back for the first time this season with Louis Ludik (pictured below) moving to the right wing in place of Tommy Bowe.
Cave is selected at outside centre for his 150th game for his home province and is partnered in midfield by fellow Ireland international Stuart Olding.
Michael Allen comes into the side on the left wing with Paddy Jackson and Springbok scrum half Ruan Pienaar paired together at half-back.
There is a completely new front row with Andrew Warwick picked at loosehead prop, Rob Herring selected at hooker and Bronson Ross, who starts his first game for Ulster, named at tighthead in place of the injured Wiehahn Herbst.
Alan O’Connor continues in the second row where he is joined by Franco van der Merwe who returns to first team duty having been ill last week.
In the back row, Clive Ross moves to openside flanker, Mike McComish is selected at blindside and captain Roger Wilson starts the round 5 fixture at number 8.
Forwards John Andrew, Callum Black, Declan Fitzpatrick, Lewis Stevenson and Robbie Diack join backs Paul Marshall, Ian Humphreys and Michael Heaney on the replacements bench.
Meanwhile, a flu bug may have hampered their preparations but Toulon are near full strength for their round 5 encounter with the Ulstermen this weekend.
Of the side that won 23-13 in Belfast back in October, there are three changes to the back-line where Drew Mitchell starts on the right wing in place of the suspended Delon Armitage and Nicolas Sanchez and Sebastien Tillous-Borde both come in at half-back.
Xavier Chiocci and Martin Castrogiovanni join hooker Guilhem Guirado in the front row and the two other switches from the round 2 clash see lock Ali Williams and flanker Juan Smith involved from the start.
TOULON: Leigh Halfpenny; Drew Mitchell, Mathieu Bastareaud, Maxime Mermoz, Bryan Habana; Nicolas Sanchez, Sebastien Tillous-Borde; Xavier Chiocci, Guilhem Guirado, Martin Castrogiovanni, Jocelino Suta, Ali Williams, Juan Smith, Steffon Armitage, Chris Masoe (capt).
Replacements: Jean-Charles Orioli, Florian Fresia, Carl Hayman, Mamuka Gorgodze, Rudi Wulf, David Smith, Eric Escande, Romain Taofifenua.
ULSTER: Jared Payne; Louis Ludik, Darren Cave, Stuart Olding, Michael Allen; Paddy Jackson, Ruan Pienaar; Andrew Warwick, Rob Herring, Bronson Ross, Alan O’Connor, Franco van der Merwe, Clive Ross, Mike McComish, Roger Wilson (captain).
Replacements: John Andrew, Callum Black, Declan Fitzpatrick, Lewis Stevenson, Robbie Diack, Paul Marshall, Ian Humphreys, Michael Heaney.
Referee: Leighton Hodges (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Wayne Davies, Greg Morgan (both Wales)
Television Match Official: Gareth Simmonds (Wales)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Toulon to win: 1/25; Draw: 30/1; Ulster to win: 9/1
Pre-Match Quotes: Rob Herring (Ulster) – “I’m really looking forward to this game. I haven’t had much game-time in the last while so I’m raring to go. It has been frustrating, obviously, but hopefully I’ll now get a run of games and be able put my hand up a bit.
“Obviously Toulon are a great side who have achieved so much over the last few years so you’ve got to respect that. But at the same time, they’re just players as well and although realistically we are probably out of Europe, we don’t want to go there and just throw in the towel.
“We want to go and play good rugby. I’m not going there just to make up the numbers. Obviously it’s a big game but you can’t big them up too much, you’ve got to go there and show what you can do. I want to go there and win and as a rugby players that is the attitude you’ve got to have going into these kind of games.
“We were massively pleased with our first half performance (against Treviso) and it showed what we can do when we hold the ball and put phases together. But our second half defence wasn’t good enough and that let them back in the game and got the crowd going. They were lifted by that.
“So we’ve got to step it up massively on the defensive side this week. I think if we can defend very well, have a good set piece and attack, we’re in with a chance.”
Current Form – Toulon – (Top 14 Championship): Won 29-15 away to Bayonne; Won 60-19 at home to La Rochelle; Lost 17-10 away to Racing Metro 92; Won 18-13 at home to Bordeaux-Bègles; Lost 28-24 at home to Stade Francais; Won 53-13 away to Brive; Won 40-17 at home to Montpellier; Won 21-18 away to Oyonnax; Lost 21-10 away to Toulouse; (European Champions Cup): Won 28-18 at home to the Scarlets; Won 23-13 away to Ulster; (Top 14 Championship): Won 61-28 at home to Grenoble; Lost 22-14 away to Castres Olympique; Won 27-19 at home to Clermont Auvergne; (European Champions Cup): Lost 25-21 away to Leicester Tigers; Won 23-8 at home to Leicester Tigers; (Top 14 Championship): Won 30-6 at Lyon; Lost 30-6 away to Stade Francais; Lost 16-12 away to Montpellier; Won 32-23 at home to Racing Metro 92
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; (European Champions Cup): Lost 25-18 away to Leicester Tigers; Lost 23-13 at home to Toulon; (GUINNESS PRO12): Won 23-6 at home to the Newport Gwent Dragons; Won 25-16 at home to the Ospreys; Lost 21-20 away to Munster; (European Champions Cup): Won 24-9 at home to the Scarlets; Lost 22-13 away to the Scarlets; (GUINNESS PRO12): Lost 31-20 away to the Ospreys; Won 13-10 at home to Connacht; Lost 24-11 away to Leinster; Won 24-20 away to Benetton Treviso
Top Scorers – 2014/15 European Champions Cup: Toulon – Points: Leigh Halfpenny 39; Tries: Bryan Habana 2; Ulster – Points: Paddy Jackson 16; Tries: Tommy Bowe, Darren Cave 2 each
Previous European Meetings: 1
Saturday, October 25, 2014 – Pool 3 – Ulster 13 Toulon 23, Kingspan Stadium
Match Facts –
– Ulster have won on their last two trips to France, after previously failing to win on French soil in 14 attempts
– Toulon, however, have won all 13 home games in the competition
– The French side have won their last four encounters with Irish teams by an average margin of 12 points
– The meeting between these two sides in round 2 saw 23 turnovers won by the teams combined (Ulster 12, Toulon 11). Only one fixture this season has seen more turnovers won in a single game
– Only one player has managed to beat more defenders than Craig Gilroy. He has beaten 13 defenders from just 33 carries this season
European Cup Records:
2010/11: Reached the quarter-finals
2013/14: Reached the quarter-finals
2012/13: Reached the quarter-finals
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