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Heineken Cup Preview: Clermont Auvergne v Ulster

Heineken Cup Preview: Clermont Auvergne v Ulster

It has been quite a week for Ulster Rugby. Just seven days after their bonus point blitz of Leicester Tigers, the province qualified for the Heineken Cup quarter-finals courtesy of a night of surprises in Pool 6. Now they will aim to finish the job by upsetting Clermont Auvergne at home and sealing home advantage in the knockout stages.

HEINEKEN CUP: POOL 4: Saturday, January 21

CLERMONT AUVERGNE (2nd) v ULSTER (1st), Stade Marcel Michelin, 4.40pm local time/3.40pm Irish time (live Sky Sports 1/Xtra red button/RTÉ Radio 1)

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Team News: Ulster have made just one change for their 100th match in the Heineken Cup, with Ian Whitten coming in to replace injured centre Darren Cave for the vital Pool 4 clash with Clermont Auvergne.

Head coach Brian McLaughlin has had consistency in selection over recent weeks but the loss of Cave is a big blow for Ulster ahead of a massive encounter at the Stade Marcel Michelin.

Whitten, though, has had plenty of game-time and is a more than able replacement in midfield. The Ulster management can also call upon Nevin Spence who has returned from injury and is available from the bench.

Johann Muller will once again lead an all-international pack, in which loose forwards Stephen Ferris, Chris Henry and Pedrie Wannenburg have been in excellent form.

Ulster’s match winners against Leicester, Ruan Pienaar and Andrew Trimble, will hope to be instrumental again in helping the province secure a home quarter-final draw. Stefan Terblanche gets the nod over Adam D’Arcy at full-back.

Apart from the inclusion of Spence, the only other change among the replacements is Andi Kyriacou’s selection ahead of Nigel Brady. The hooker will earn his 50th cap for the province if he gets any time on the pitch.

Ulster have never won in France in 14 attempts, while their hosts on Saturday are unbeaten at home in 36 matches.

But Ulster will be buoyed by their performance against Leicester last Friday and are determined to create history by making the knockout stages in two consecutive years for the first time in their history.

Attack coach Neil Doak said: “This weekend is all about clearing the next hurdle in our progression. It was great to reach the quarter-finals last year and be highly competitive against Northampton Saints, but the game in Clermont is much bigger than last year’s quarter-final.

“We’ve got to go and get the monkey off our back by winning in France for the first time and we want to put ourselves in with a chance of a home draw in the last-eight.

“Munster and Leinster are already there and it would be great for Irish rugby if we had three provinces in the quarter-finals for the first time. We have been building nicely towards this game and the players all know how important it is.”

Meanwhile, Clermont Auvergne boss Vern Cotter has made changes in the centre and at out-half for their round 6 showdown with Ulster.

Captain Aurélien Rougerie and Wesley Fofana will pair up in midfield, alongside returning out-half David Skrela. Brock James and Regan King have both been benched, with Gonzalo Canale also making way.

The French outfit are coming off the back of a 12-try 82-0 thumping of Aironi and it is no surprise to see an influx of forwards who sat out that facile victory.

Lionel Faure, Benjamin Kayser and Clément Ric have been restored to the front row, with Julien Pierre and Scottland’s Nathan Hines returning in the second row.

Gerard Vosloo and Julian Bonnaire link up with Julien Bardy in the back row, an area which is sure to be explosive given the recent form of Ulster’s trio.

CLERMONT AUVERGNE: Lee Byrne; Sitiveni Sivivatu, Aurélien Rougerie (capt), Wesley Fofana, Julien Malzieu; David Skrela, Morgan Parra; Lionel Faure, Benjamin Kayser, Clément Ric, Julien Pierre, Nathan Hines, Gerhard Vosloo, Julien Bardy, Julien Bonnaire.

Replacements: Ti’i Paulo, Vincent Debaty, Daniel Kotze, Jamie Cudmore, Alexandre Lapandry, Kevin Senio, Brock James, Regan King.

ULSTER: Stefan Terblanche; Andrew Trimble, Ian Whitten, Paddy Wallace, Craig Gilroy; Ian Humphreys, Ruan Pienaar; Tom Court, Rory Best, John Afoa, Johann Muller (capt), Dan Tuohy, Stephen Ferris, Chris Henry, Pedrie Wannenburg.

Replacements: Andi Kyriacou, Callum Black, Adam Macklin, Lewis Stevenson, Willie Faloon, Paul Marshall, Nevin Spence, Adam D’Arcy.

Referee: Dave Pearson (England)
Assistant Referees: David Rose, Roy Maybank (both England)
Television Match Official: Trevor Fisher (England)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Clermont Auvergne to win: 1/7; Draw: 25/1; Ulster to win: 4/1

Pre-Match Quotes: Craig Gilroy (Ulster) – “It goes up a notch again this week, absolutely no question about that. The reality is that the win over Leicester will mean nothing unless we go over to Clermont and put in a performance.

“However last Friday’s win definitely gives us belief – and shows that we can beat any team in the competition – so we have to take the positives and try and replicate those in France.

“We proved that we can beat Clermont when we won the round 1 match back in November. Obviously we had home advantage on that occasion, but we beat them nevertheless and we know we can beat them home and away and that’s what we’ll be looking to do.

“That said, they are a great team especially among their backs where they have got some of the best players in the world. It still amazes me that I could be playing against them – it is a complete dream.

“It’s only just over 12 months since I made my debut and to play against the likes of Sitiveni Sivivatu, Lee Byrne and (Aurelien) Rougerie, it’s crazy. But I can’t let myself get star struck. I’ll just have to play the best I can no matter who I might be up against.”

Aurélien Rougerie (Clermont Auvergne) – “We had a glimpse last November of just what Ulster are capable of achieving but they have evolved since then. We already know they are great battlers and physically strong.

“So, on that level at least, we will have to measure up, then we have the remainder of this week to put our tactics in place. Playing at home at the Marcel Michelin this time will certainly be a massive advantage.

“Our fans are always behind us, pushing us, and that will be key when we play such an essential game of our season.

“However, we won’t dwell upon calculations to study all the possibilities for us to qualify. We will go forward and try to win a tough game to start with and then, if we get five points, that would be great but it seems complicated in my view.

“We will see how the game pans out and play accordingly but most important of all we have got to get those important four points if we want to qualify at all, whether it is for a home quarter-final or an away match.”

Current Form – Clermont Auvergne – (Top 14 Championship): Won 22-13 at home to Lyon; Won 17-0 away to Toulon; Won 34-6 at home to Bordeaux-Begles; Won 22-11 away to Racing Metro 92; Won 19-13 at home to Bayonne; Lost 22-9 away to Toulouse; Won 29-13 at home to Agen; Won 39-3 away to Perpignan; Won 41-0 at home to Biarritz Olympique; Lost 37-16 away to Stade Francais; (Heineken Cup): Lost 16-11 away to Ulster; Won 54-3 at home to Aironi Rugby; (Top 14 Championship): Lost 29-23 away to Montpellier; Won 33-16 at home to Castres Olympique; (Heineken Cup); Won 30-12 at home to Leicester Tigers; Lost 23-19 away to Leicester Tigers; (Top 14 Championship): Won 9-6 away to Brive; Drew 6-6 away to Lyon; Won 25-19 at home to Toulon; (Heineken Cup): Won 82-0 away to Aironi Rugby

Ulster – (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 28-14 at home to Glasgow Warriors; Won 25-19 away to Aironi Rugby; Won 20-3 at home to the Cardiff Blues; Lost 32-14 away to the Ospreys; Lost 22-9 away to the Newport Gwent Dragons; Lost 23-12 at home to Benetton Treviso; Lost 24-17 away to the Scarlets; Won 22-3 at home to Connacht; (Heineken Cup): Won 16-11 at home to Clermont Auvergne; Lost 20-9 away to Leicester Tigers; (RaboDirect PRO12): Lost 17-9 away to Glasgow Warriors; Won 24-17 at home to the Scarlets; (Heineken Cup): Won 31-10 at home to Aironi Rugby; Won 46-20 away to Aironi Rugby; (RaboDirect PRO12): Lost 42-13 away to Leinster; Won 33-17 at home to Munster; Won 42-20 away to Edinburgh; (Heineken Cup): Won 41-7 at home to Leicester Tigers

Top Scorers – 2011/12 Heineken Cup: Clermont Auvergne – Points: Morgan Parra 42; Tries: Julien Malzieu 5; Ulster – Points: Ian Humphreys 43; Tries: Andrew Trimble 4

Previous European Meetings: 1

Saturday, November 12, 2011 – Pool 4 – Ulster 16 Clermont Auvergne 11, Ravenhill

Heineken Cup Records:

Clermont Auvergne –
2010/11: Failed to qualify from Pool 2
2009/10: Reached the quarter-finals
2008/09: Failed to qualify from Pool 1
2007/08: Failed to qualify from Pool 5
2005/06: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
2002/03: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2001/02: Reached the quarter-finals
1999/00: Reached the quarter-finals

Ulster –
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