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European Champions Cup Preview: Ulster v Toulon

European Champions Cup Preview: Ulster v Toulon

A white-hot atmosphere is promised at Kingspan Stadium on Saturday as Ulster look to lower the colours of reigning European champions Toulon and climb the Pool 3 table.


ULSTER (3rd) v TOULON (1st), Kingspan Stadium, 1pm (live Sky Sports 2 HD/BBC Radio Ulster/RTÉ 2fm/highlights TG4)

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Team News: Ulster captain Rory Best will make his 50th European Cup appearance for the province against reigning champions Toulon at Kingspan Stadium on Saturday.

Best, who is 32, made his European Cup debut against Gloucester in January 2005 in a 14-12 home win.

Saturday’s crunch round 2 clash will be the first time that Ulster have played Toulon, the European champions for the past two years.

Ulster head coach Neil Doak has made two changes to the starting team that lost 25-18 to Leicester Tigers at Welford Road in the opening round.

Stuart Olding starts the game at inside centre, with Stuart McCloskey dropping out of the matchday squad. In the pack, Nick Williams moves to the bench with Roger Wilson picked at number 8.

The rest of the team is unchanged with Louis Ludik at full-back, Tommy Bowe on the right wing, Ireland call-up Jared Payne at outside centre, Craig Gilroy on the left wing, Paddy Jackson at outhalf and Paul Marshall at scrum half.

Andrew Warwick is selected at loosehead prop beside Best with South African Wiehahn Herbst continuing at tighthead. Franco van der Merwe and Lewis Stevenson continue their partnership in the second row, while Chris Henry and Robbie Diack start either side of Wilson in the back row.

There is one other change on the bench with Ian Humphreys included in the 23-man panel. Rob Herring, Callum Black, Declan Fitzpatrick, Clive Ross, Nick Williams, Michael Heaney and Darren Cave complete the selected squad.

Meanwhile, Toulon make the trip to Belfast showing seven personnel changes to the side that beat the Scarlets 28-18 at home last Sunday.

Delon Armitage and Michael Claassens will start on the right wing and at scrum half respectively, coming in for David Smith and the benched Sebastien Tillous-Borde.

The visitors’ back-line is completed by place-kicking full-back Leigh Halfpenny and fellow international stars Mathieu Bastareaud, Maxime Mermoz, Bryan Habana and Mat Giteau, who has taken over from the retired Jonny Wilkinson at out-half.

Alexandre Menini and hooker Guilhem Guirado step up from the bench to join captain Carl Hayman in the starting front row.

Jocelino Suta and Romain Taofifenua pair up in the second row, with Bakkies Botha and Ali Williams making way, and Chris Masoe returns at number 8, meaning Steffon Armitage – their try-scoring man-of-the-match against the Scarlets – reverts to his usual openside spot.

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

Replacements: Rob Herring, Callum Black, Declan Fitzpatrick, Clive Ross, Nick Williams, Michael Heaney, Ian Humphreys, Darren Cave.

TOULON: Leigh Halfpenny; Delon Armitage, Mathieu Bastareaud, Maxime Mermoz, Bryan Habana; Matt Giteau, Michael Claassens; Alexandre Menini, Guilhem Guirado, Carl Hayman (capt), Jocelino Suta, Romain Taofifenua, Juan Fernandez Lobbe, Steffon Armitage, Chris Masoe.

Replacements: Craig Burden, Fabien Barcella, Levan Chilachava, Bakkies Botha, James O’Connor, Ali Williams, Sebastien Tillous-Borde, Juan Smith.

Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant Referees: Tim Wigglesworth, Nigel Carrick (both England)
Television Match Official: Rowan Kitt (England)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ulster to win: 4/5; Draw: 20/1; Toulon to win: Evens

Pre-Match Quotes: Neil Doak (Ulster) – “Toulon have won this competition in successive seasons and have real quality across the board and bags of experience. Those players are used to playing in hostile occasions, in front of big crowds, but we will just have to try and intimidate them like never before in front of what should be a raucous crowd at Ravenhill.

“We have just moved on quickly (from Leicester) and focused on Toulon. We’ve certainly taken a lot of positives from that game at Welford Road.

“When we had the ball we were very, very dangerous. As I said to the boys on Monday, we had six or seven opportunities around the edges when they were stretched and if we had more vision, we could have capitalised more. So, we know that when we have the ball, we can create opportunities and strike.

“We scored two quality tries against Leicester and it is a long, long time since we have scored two tries in a game and lost it. So from that point of view it was a little bit frustrating.

“If you look at the game, there were 44 set pieces in 80 minutes of rugby, it’s hard to get any real flow to the game. But when we had flow, we created those opportunities and that’s what we have to aim for this week.”

Bernard Laporte (Toulon) – “Ulster lost last weekend and do not want to lose at home so we expect a big game. We did not get a bonus point last week but that will not decide qualification, that depends on who wins the most games. This is the European Cup. We know what it is, we have won twice.”

Current Form – 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

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

Top Scorers – 2014/15 European Champions Cup: Ulster – Points: Paddy Jackson 8; Tries: Tommy Bowe, Franco van der Merwe 1 each; Toulon – Points: Leigh Halfpenny 13; Tries: Matt Giteau, Maxime Mermoz, Steffon Armitage 1 each

Previous European Meetings: 0

European Cup Records:

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

Toulon –
2013/14: Champions
2012/13: Champions
2010/11: Reached the quarter-finals