Two former European title-winning sides, Ulster and Leicester Tigers, will collide on Saturday night as they fight it out for top spot in Pool 4. Winning at Welford Road would be a serious statement of intent from Brian McLaughlin’s men.
HEINEKEN CUP: POOL 4: Saturday, November 19
LEICESTER TIGERS (1st) v ULSTER (2nd), Welford Road, 6pm (live Sky Sports 1/HD1)
Team News: Ulster head coach Brian McLaughlin has been forced to make two changes to his team for the Heineken Cup Pool 4 showdown with Leicester Tigers at Welford Road.
Paddy Wallace will miss the trip to Welford Road after he had an operation to repair tendon damage in his left thumb.
The injury was picked up last weekend against Clermont Auvergne and is likely to keep the experienced back on the sidelines for six to eight weeks.
With Wallace ruled out, Nevin Spence has been promoted to the starting line-up in his place and will combine with Darren Cave in the province’s midfield.
The only other change sees Declan Fitzpatrick start at tighthead prop in place of John Afoa who had to return to New Zealand temporarily.
Afoa, who was not due to join Ulster until December 1, had made a prior commitment to carry out best man duties at Jerome Kaino’s wedding.
The promotion of Spence and Fitzpatrick means Paddy Jackson and Adam Macklin are named among the replacements. The Development duo will make their Heineken Cup bows if they take to the pitch on Saturday night.
There is one final alteration to the replacements with Nigel Brady providing cover at hooker instead of Andi Kyriacou, who will be given game-time in the Ulster Ravens’s British & Irish Cup match against Currie.
Commenting on the changes, Brian McLaughlin said: “Declan has proved to be a very good tighthead prop. A couple of years ago against Stade Francais in this competition he proved what he is capable of at this level.
“To lose Paddy is a blow. After the World Cup he came back itching to play and it’s very unfortunate for him. But in Nevin Spence we have an able replacement and we have no doubts he can do an excellent job for us.
“We are very fortunate to have a lot of depth in that area with Ian Whitten and also Luke Marshall who is making his way back from injury.”
The Ulster boss added: “Welford Road has always been a very difficult place to go. Maybe with the World Cup they haven’t got off to the best of starts but with their internationals back they will be a tough nut to crack. But we are going there full of confidence.”
Meanwhile, Geordan Murphy will skipper the Leicester team for their first home game of this season’s Heineken Cup, with fellow Ireland international Jeremy Staunton and ex-Leinster back Niall Morris named on the Tigers’ bench.
Murphy will equal his predecessor Martin Corry’s record number of Heineken Cup appearances for the English club as he runs out in Leicester colours for the 69th time in the tournament.
Richard Cockerill and his coaching staff welcome back two internationals into the matchday squad. Argentina’s Horacio Agulla returns on the right wing after missing the opening round victory over Aironi, with Morris making way.
England scrum half Ben Youngs will take up a spot among the replacements. He has returned to full fitness following a decent Rugby World Cup campaign in New Zealand.
LEICESTER TIGERS: Geordan Murphy (capt); Horacio Agulla, Matt Smith, Andy Forsyth, Alesana Tuilagi; Toby Flood, Sam Harrison; Marcos Ayerza, George Chuter, Dan Cole, Louis Deacon, Geoff Parling, Tom Croft, Julian Salvi, Thomas Waldrom.
Replacements: Rob Hawkins, Boris Stankovich, Martin Castrogiovanni, George Skivington, Steve Mafi, Ben Youngs, Jeremy Staunton, Niall Morris.
ULSTER: Simon Danielli; Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, Nevin Spence, Craig Gilroy; Ian Humphreys, Paul Marshall; Tom Court, Rory Best, Declan Fitzpatrick, Johann Muller (capt), Dan Tuohy, Stephen Ferris, Chris Henry, Pedrie Wannenburg.
Replacements: Nigel Brady, Paddy McAllister, Adam Macklin, Lewis Stevenson, Willie Faloon, Ian Porter, Paddy Jackson, Adam D’Arcy.
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant Referees: Franck Maciello, Stephane Boyer (both France)
Television Match Official: Bernard Dal Maso (France)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Leicester Tigers to win: 1/7; Draw: 25/1; Ulster to win: 5/1
Pre-Match Quotes: Ian Humphreys (Ulster) – “It was four years ago that I was at Leicester and a lot’s happened since then. Most of the boys I was really friendly with have moved on.
“It is not something that’s in the back of mind and I am just enjoying playing here (at Ulster). I had a great time at Leicester but I just want to get over there this weekend and get the win.
“Because we feel that, even when we go away from home, we’ve got the quality to beat teams. We’ll be travelling to Welford Road full of confidence and thinking that we can win that game.
“Winning away in Europe is about breaking down mental barriers and I think we have done that. We’ve beaten teams like Worcester Warriors and Harlequins in pre-season friendlies and beaten Bath in the Heineken Cup.
“We are not thinking, ‘We’ll go and give it a crack, we might get close and maybe get a losing bonus point’. We are now going over there thinking there’s no reason why we can’t get the four points.
“We got to the quarter-finals last year and pushed Northampton Saints hard away from home. But for a few mistakes, we could have won that game.
“It is now a matter of us believing it. That’s the great thing about boys like Johann Muller coming in – we know we can be as good as anybody else and we don’t go across fearing anybody anymore.
“The game against Clermont just proved how good our forwards are. The whole squad fronted up. We knew it was going to be a big, physical battle but I don’t think we took a backward step anywhere on the field. That win will give us confidence going forward.”
Geordan Murphy (Leicester Tigers) – “Ulster are a good side and picked up a couple of away wins last year. They will fancy coming to Welford Road. They’ve made some really good signings over the last couple of years.
“There is a lot of talk about their South Africa core but they have some very good young Irish players as well – Ian Humphreys, Steve Ferris, Andrew Trimble and Paddy Wallace, the latter is so underrated and a player I really respect.
“I was pleased to get a good win in our opener as Aironi are a tough side. We watched a lot of footage of them building up to the clash and they took the match to a big stadium and wanted to put on a show – it was a cup final for them.
“It would have been nice to get the bonus point, and it was really frustrating to get the third try after 80 minutes. We should have got more out of the game, but full credit to Aironi they defended well and were aggressive.
“There is a long way to go and we might have to pick up bonus points later in the season but hopefully it won’t come back to haunt us.
“Now it will be interesting to see what happens – and that’s the interesting thing about the Heineken Cup, there are so many permutations.
“Aironi are a very good side that work hard and deserve a lot of credit. Hopefully they can help us out and get a scalp later in the competition.”
Current Form – Leicester Tigers – (Aviva Premiership): Lost 30-28 at home to Exeter Chiefs; Lost 35-29 away to London Wasps; Won 27-26 away to Newcastle Falcons; Lost 50-25 at home to Saracens; Lost 26-25 away to Bath; Lost 27-18 at home to Harlequins; (LV= Cup): Lost 31-3 away to the Scarlets; Won 40-14 at home to Gloucester; (Aviva Premiership): Won 34-13 away to Sale Sharks; Drew 24-24 at home to London Irish; (Heineken Cup): Won 28-12 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
Top Scorers – 2011/12 Heineken Cup: Leicester Tigers – Points: Toby Flood 13; Tries: Tom Croft, Alesana Tuilagi, Niall Morris 1 each; Ulster – Points: Ian Humphreys 16; Tries: Ian Humphreys 1
Previous European Meetings: 2
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
Heineken Cup Records:
Leicester Tigers –
2010/11: Reached the quarter-finals
2009/10: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
2007/08: Failed to qualify from Pool 6
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
1999/00: Failed to qualify from Pool 1
1997/98: 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