Ulster will put their unbeaten run this season on the line at Parc des Sports Aguilera on Sunday. Both sides won their respective games ove the opening weekend and will go head-to-head in a bid to take control of Pool 4.
HEINEKEN CUP: POOL 4: Sunday, October 17
BIARRITZ OLYMPIQUE (2nd) v ULSTER (1st), Parc des Sports Aguilera, 4pm local time/3pm Irish time (live Sky Sports 1 Interactive)
Team News: The selected Ulster team for Sunday’s Heineken Cup Pool 4 clash with Biarritz Olympique shows four personnel changes and one positional switch to the side that defeated Aironi Rugby 30-6 last weekend.
Brian McLaughlin’s Ulster side will put their unbeaten start to the season on the line when they visit Parc des Sports Aguilera on Sunday.
Injuries to Jamie Smith (shoulder girdle/rib) and Darren Cave (hamstring) rule them out of contention and they are replaced by David McIlwaine at full-back and Ian Whitten at centre.
The game will mark McIlwaine’s full Heineken Cup debut, while Whitten comes in for his fifth appearance at this level.
Up front, BJ Botha’s return to fitness sees him take up the tighthead berth with Tom Court switching to the loosehead side of the scrum.
In the back row, Stephen Ferris is set for his first game since picking up shoulder and rib injuries last month. The 25-year-old will start at openside flanker, with Chris Henry dropping to the replacements bench.
“I can’t wait to get out there and represent Ulster in such an important game,” said Ferris, who was ever-present for the province in last season’s pool stages.
“It’s been tough missing the past few weeks, particularly the match against Aironi where there was quite a lot of open play and after that I’m really champing at the bit to get going again.
“I think we’ll see a big ‘pack against pack’ battle on Sunday, and I feel that the game will be won and lost up front.
“Biarritz don’t like to play too much rugby, when they do get front-foot ball it’s because of their forwards – that’s where it’s all going to start for them.
“We will be facing a very good, tough back row and we’ll really have to dig in. But we’re every bit the match for Biarritz and I’m looking forward to the contest.”
Amongst the replacements for Ulster, Andi Kyriacou provides cover at hooker, Bryan Young and Paddy McAllister are the prop replacements, while Nevin Spence and Irish-qualified Australian Adam D’Arcy, two potential Heineken Cup debutants, cover the three-quarter positions.
Meanwhile, influential lock Jérôme Thion and hooker Benoit August have been brought into Biarritz team for their second pool game.
The beaten finalists from last season gained a 12-11 win at Bath in their opening round match, and management duo Laurent Rodriguez and Jack Isaac have made two changes to the side that started at the Recreation Ground.
Thion returns to a hard-grafting pack, linking up in the second row with Erik Lund, the Norwegian international who joined the club in the summer. August replaces Romain Terrain in the front row.
Biarritz boast plenty of potential match winners in their side, the lightning quick Takudzwa Ngwenya, nerveless goal-kicker Dimitri Yachvili, who booted four penalties against Bath, and formidable flanker Imanol Harinordoquy. The latter’s individual battle with Ferris will be worth the ticket price alone.
BIARRITZ OLYMPIQUE: Dane Haylett-Petty; Takudzwa Ngwenya, Charles Gimenez, Michael Bond, Iain Balshaw; Julien Peyrelongue, Dimitri Yachvili; Eduard Coetzee, Benoit August, Campbell Johnstone, Jérôme Thion, Erik Lund, Magnus Lund, Imanol Harinordoquy (capt), Raphael Lakafia.
Replacements: Romain Terrain, Sylvain Marconnet, Alexandre Barozzi, Manuel Carizza, Benoit Guyot, Damien Traille, Arnaud Mignardi, Ilikena Bolakoro.
ULSTER: David McIlwaine; Andrew Trimble, Ian Whitten, Paddy Wallace, Simon Danielli; Ian Humphreys, Ruan Pienaar; Tom Court, Rory Best (capt), BJ Botha, Johann Muller, Tim Barker, Pedrie Wannenburg, Stephen Ferris, Robbie Diack.
Replacements: Andi Kyriacou, Paddy McAllister, Bryan Young, Dan Tuohy, Chris Henry, Paul Marshall, Nevin Spence, Adam D’Arcy.
Referee: David Pearson (England)
Assistant Referees: Rob Debney, Paul Dix (both England)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Biarritz Olympique to win: 1/4; Draw: 22/1; Ulster to win: 3/1
Pre-Match Quotes: Ian Humphreys (Ulster) – “The Heineken Cup is a big step-up and Biarritz were runners-up last season, so it’s a massive challenge for us – but it is also the kind of challenge that allows us to see how good we are.
“We think we have done pretty well so far but Sunday will be a real test.
“It is going to be tough going down there but, if we can perform as we know we can, we can definitely get something out of the game.
“It is still early days but we are unbeaten and we’ll take plenty of positives. We’re going down there full of confidence. If we can play like we did against Aironi, cut out the mistakes and play at that intensity, not many teams will be able to live with us.
“We have got to go there with confidence. We’re on a roll, winning is a habit and at the moment we’ve got that habit and hopefully it can continue this weekend.
“It was an enjoyable opener (against Aironi) as I think we all had the mindset that we were going to play a bit of rugby. We tried to lift the intensity and I think Aironi struggled to deal with that at times.
“It was just through a few mistakes that we didn’t pile on the points. A couple of times we tried to force the offload and force passes. The challenge against the top teams like Biarritz is that we need to tighten up on that and cut out the silly errors.”
Ian Whitten (Ulster) – “(Dimitri) Yachvili is a very important player for them. So is (Imanol) Harinordoquy. They’re their two biggest players.
“The rest of them were solid (against Bath), so they managed to grind out a good win. You have to hand that to them.
(Against Aironi) we wanted to try and move them about because when we watched videos, we saw that they tired when the Scarlets did that to them. The Scarlets scored towards the end, so that’s what our goal was.
“Thankfully we were able to get four tries and the bonus point. We probably could have had two or three more tries if we’d been a wee bit more accurate.
“I’m getting a few opportunities, which is helping, but there are a few things I’d like to be doing better, like sticking hits a bit more. Apart from that I’m reasonably pleased – just glad of the opportunities.
“Our set pieces this season have been good and now Ruan (Pienaar) has come in and is doing a great job.
“All the new boys have settled in and they’re helping us. They’ve upped the physicality, we’re getting good quick ball from rucks and Ruan has been getting it away nice and quickly in the past couple of matches.
“It’s great to have the experienced guys in there – all those international caps for the Springboks and Ireland means we can lean on those boys when it gets tough.
“They’re really helping in the pressure situations. Before, maybe, we were falling away a bit but this season we’re sticking in there a bit better, getting through and getting the result.”
Current Form – Ulster – (Magners League): Won 27-26 at home to the Ospreys; Won 22-15 away to Aironi Rugby; Won 29-21 at home to Edinburgh; Drew 15-15 away to Connacht; Won 19-17 at home to Glasgow Warriors; (Heineken Cup): Won 30-6 at home to Aironi Rugby
Biarritz Olympique – (Top 14): Won 30-22 at home to Montpellier; Lost 13-3 at home to Toulon; Lost 28-23 away to Agen; Lost 17-12 away to Perpignan; Won 19-11 at home to Stade Francais; Won 25-20 at home to Toulouse; Won 29-23 away to La Rochelle; Lost 17-12 away to Racing Metro 92; Won 22-19 away to Bayonne; (Heineken Cup): Won 12-11 away to Bath
Previous European Meetings: 4
Friday, December 6, 2002 – Pool 6 – Ulster 13 Biarritz Olympique 9, Ravenhill
Saturday, December 14, 2002 – Pool 6 – Biarritz Olympique 25 Ulster 20, Parc des Sports Aguilera
Saturday, October 29, 2005 – Pool 4 – Biarritz Olympique 33 Ulster 19, Parc des Sports Aguilera
Friday, January 13, 2006 – Pool 4 – Ulster 8 Biarritz Olympique 24, Ravenhill
Heineken Cup Records:
Biarritz Olympique –
2008/09: Failed to qualify from Pool 6
2007/08: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2006/07: Reached the quarter-finals
2004/05: Reached the semi-finals
2003/04: Reached the semi-finals
2002/03: Reached the quarter-finals
2001/02: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
2000/01: 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