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Heineken Cup Preview: Ulster v Biarritz Olympique

Heineken Cup Preview: Ulster v Biarritz Olympique

The anticipation is building ahead of what is arguably the biggest European match for Ulster since they lifted the trophy at Lansdowne Road back in 1999. Can the class of 2011 rise to the occasion?

HEINEKEN CUP: POOL 4: Saturday, January 15

ULSTER (2nd) v BIARRITZ OLYMPIQUE (1st), Ravenhill, 3.30pm (live Sky Sports 1/HD1)

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Team News: Rory Best and Stephen Ferris have been named in the Ulster team for Saturday afternoon’s showdown with Pool 4 leaders Biarritz Olympique.

It will be Best’s first Heineken Cup outing since October, having recently returned from a cheekbone injury.

There are two changes to the Uside that battled to an away win over Bath in the last round of European action. Best comes in for Nigel Brady at hooker, and the fit-again Ferris returns at blindside flanker.

Robbie Diack makes way as Ferris, who has shaken off a leg injury, links up with Willie Faloon and Pedrie Wannenburg in the starting back row.

Andrew Trimble has recovered from a back complaint to retain his place on the right wing, while youngster Nevin Spence, who has scored two tries in his last three games, continues his centre partnership with Paddy Wallace.

Speaking ahead of the game, the province’s head coach Brian McLaughlin said: “There’s no doubt that Biarritz are a very good rugby team. We’ve already played them, we know exactly how they can play.

“We matched them well over there (in October) for 40 minutes and it’s a matter of us getting out at Ravenhill on Saturday, doing the same again but extending it for 80 and making sure we get the result we want.

“They’ve a very good set piece side, their lineout is exceptionally strong, as we discovered, their scrum as well.

“They’ve a very strong maul which they’ve used to devastating effect in the French Championship, so those are things we’ve been emphasising all week.

“You’ve got to take care of their key decision maker (Dimitri) Yachvili who is always probing, always very much alive.”

With qualification for the quarter-final stages of the Heineken Cup competition still very much in Ulster’s hands, Saturday’s match against Biarritz represents one of the most important games in the province’s history.

A win would ensure that McLaughlin’s men are still very much in contention, ahead of their round 6 trip to Aironi Rugby next weekend.

Meanwhile, Biarritz come into this game in Belfast on the back of a thumping ten-try 65-22 victory over Agen in the Top 14 Championship.

From the side that lined out last Saturday, the starting back-line has been retained with Australian youngster Dan Haylett-Petty selected at full-back and Damien Traille and Dimitri Yachvili forming an experienced half-back combination.

Eduard Coetzee will start ahead of Yvan Watremez at loosehead prop, linking up with Sylvain Marconnet and hooker Benoit August, who scored a hat-trick of tries against Agen.

Erik Lund adds to Biarritz’s lineout options, taking over from Pelu Taele in the second row, while Wenceslas Lauret makes way for the more experienced Magnus Lund in the back row.

England flanker Lund, who sustained a head injury recently against Toulon, said: “The first game against Ulster was tough, very tough.

“I know the scoreline (of 35-15) didn’t really show that in the end, and the fact that we managed to score four tries. But the first half was very tight and luckily we managed to pull away in the second half.

“We’ve got no doubts that it’s going to be a lot tougher over in Belfast. We’re under no illusions about how big a task this is, but we’ve got a lot of guys with a lot of experience in European rugby and hopefully we can call on that on Saturday.”

ULSTER: Adam D’Arcy; Andrew Trimble, Nevin Spence, Paddy Wallace, Simon Danielli; Ian Humphreys, Ruan Pienaar; Tom Court, Rory Best (capt), BJ Botha, Johann Muller, Dan Tuohy, Stephen Ferris, Willie Faloon, Pedrie Wannenburg.

Replacements: Nigel Brady, Bryan Young, Declan Fitzpatrick, Tim Barker, Chris Henry, Paul Marshall, Ian Whitten, David McIlwaine.

BIARRITZ OLYMPIQUE: Dane Haylett-Petty; Takudzwa Ngwenya, Marcelo Bosch, Laurent Tranier, Iain Balshaw; Damien Traille, Dimitri Yachvili; Eduard Coetzee, Benoit August, Sylvain Marconnet, Jérôme Thion, Erik Lund, Magnus Lund, Imanol Harinordoquy (capt), Raphael Lakafia.

Replacements: Romain Terrain, Yvan Watremez, Alexandre Barozzi, Pelu Taele, Samiu Vahafolau, Julien Peyrelongue, Michael Bond, Ilikena Bolakoro.

Referee: Nigel Davies (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Hugh Watkins, Jonathan Mason (both Wales)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ulster to win: 4/6; Draw: 18/1; Biarritz Olympique to win: 6/5

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Pre-Match Quotes: Andrew Trimble (Ulster) – “We’re are all sick of talking about 1999 and if we can get a result this weekend we’re hoping it can lead to bigger things. For me and the other guys this is a big occasion for us and I just can’t wait.

“In my time we haven’t been in this position with two games left and with a big French team coming to Ravenhill with it still in our hands.

“The idea of a Heineken Cup quarter-final is exciting, I’ve been here six years and never made it to the last-eight.

“There’s been money, time and effort put into this team, we have brought in a few big names and they are guys that are going to make the right decisions in the right area of the park.

“They are clever rugby players and that is maybe something we have lacked in the past but something we have got now.

“The more players we bring into the squad the more people are going to expect and the more we are going to expect of ourselves.

“These big French teams coming to Ravenhill and more often than not we give them a hiding and those days are class.

“It’s great when we get a big team over and get stuck into them and because there is so much riding on Saturday’s game, it will be a big occasion.”

Nevin Spence (Ulster) – “In the first 20 minutes I’d imagine they will try to impose a certain amount of physicality so it will be up to us to meet that challenge.

“Depending on what the weather is like, Biarritz might go for territory or else use their back-three. The one thing we can be sure of is that there will be a physical side.

“We can’t do what we did against Bath and give them an early lead, though I think we have learnt lessons from that and that’s important. Biarritz are a good enough side that if you let them get a 12-point start it could be game over.

“At the same time, if things don’t go our way in the first 20 minutes or the first half we can draw on the experience of the Bath games knowing that we can come back from points down.

“A lot of that belief comes from the coaching staff, it’s not just down to the players. The coaching staff deserve credit for that.

“And I think the experience of our half-backs, Ruan (Pienaar) and Humph (Ian Humphreys) – key players and decision makers – is really important for us.”

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; Lost 35-15 away to Biarritz Olympique; (Magners League): Lost 21-16 away to Edinburgh; Lost 16-6 at home to Munster; (Heineken Cup): Won 22-18 at home to Bath; Won 26-22 away to Bath; (Magners League): Lost 30-13 at home to Leinster; Lost 35-10 away to Munster; Won 32-13 at home to Benetton Treviso

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; Won 35-15 at home to Ulster; (Top 14): Won 16-13 at home to Clermont Auvergne; Won 27-21 away to Brive; Drew 17-17 at home to Castres Olympique; Won 37-20 at home to Bourgoin; (Heineken Cup): Lost 28-27 away to Aironi Rugby; Won 34-4 at home to Aironi Rugby; (Top 14): Lost 22-16 away to Bourgoin; Lost 38-26 away to Toulon; Won 65-22 at home to Agen

Top Scorers – 2010/11 Heineken Cup: Ulster – Points: Ian Humphreys 42; Tries: Andrew Trimble 2; Biarritz Olympique – Points: Dimitri Yachvili 48; Tries: Takudzwa Ngwenya 4

Previous European Meetings: 5

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
Sunday, October 17, 2010 – Pool 4 – Biarritz Olympique 35 Ulster 15, Parc des Sports Aguilera

Heineken Cup Records:

Ulster –
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

Biarritz Olympique –
2009/10: Runners-up
2008/09: Failed to qualify from Pool 6
2007/08: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2006/07: Reached the quarter-finals
2005/06: Runners-up
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