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Heineken Cup Preview: Ulster v Clermont Auvergne

Heineken Cup Preview: Ulster v Clermont Auvergne

Ulster face a tough opening fixture in this season’s Heineken Cup, welcoming French side Clermont Auvergne to Ravenhill on what they hope is the first leg of another successful voyage through the pool stages.

HEINEKEN CUP: POOL 4: Saturday, November 12

ULSTER v CLERMONT AUVERGNE, Ravenhill, 3.40pm (live Sky Sports 1/HD1)

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Team News: Head coach Brian McLaughlin has named an unchanged team for Ulster’s opening Heineken Cup Pool 4 match against Clermont Auvergne at Ravenhill.

Captain Johann Muller and Ireland players Tom Court and Stephen Ferris have all shaken off injuries picked up during last weekend’s 22-3 derby win over Connacht.

There are two changes among the replacements with Declan Fitzpatrick returning from injury in place of Adam Macklin and Willie Faloon coming in for Robbie Diack.

New signing John Afoa will make his Heineken Cup debut just a week after making his first appearance for Ulster.

The Rugby World Cup-winning prop is surrounded by experience up front, with all eight forwards having been capped at international level.

With Ruan Pienaar currently injured, Paul Marshall will again be handed the number 9 jersey and is partnered at half-back by Ian Humphreys.

Paddy Wallace and Darren Cave form the centre combination, while Scotland international Simon Danielli will continue in the full-back role.

McLaughlin is delighted to have the likes of Muller, Court and Ferris available and he can now name the same starting line-up for the second consecutive week.

“To have the three guys available is a brilliant boost for us, you need your key players on the pitch,” he said.

“We have some guys in the squad who are understandably disappointed at missing out, but it shows the quality we have assembled. Continuity is very important and it gives us momentum going into what is a massive game for us.”

He added: “Clermont are an exceptional side, they’ve proved that with their results in the Top 14. We are going to focus on us, cut out the errors and try to be a bit more clinical when opportunities arise.”

Ulster know that to do well in Europe it is almost a prerequisite to win your home games. Hooker Rory Best said: “I think people underestimate how much the crowd can lift the players during matches. They really are like a 16th man for us.”

Meanwhile, Scotland’s Nathan Hines, who won the Heineken Cup with Leinster last season, and Wales full-back Lee Byrne have been included in the Clermont Auvergne side for the trip to Belfast.

Two more of Vern Cotter’s big summer signings, France international David Skrela and former All Black Regan King, will also start against the Ulstermen.

French international duo Julien Pierre and Julien Bonnaire return to boost an already powerful forward unit, with King being joined by the experienced Aurélien Rougerie and Skrela will have the multi-talented Morgan Parra by his side at half-back.

Bonnaire replaces Scottish international Jason White in the back row, while the front row combination of Lionel Faure, Benjamin Kayser and Davit Zirakashvili is unchanged from last weekend’s Top 14 loss to Stade Francais.

ULSTER: Simon Danielli; Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, Paddy Wallace, Craig Gilroy; Ian Humphreys, Paul Marshall; Tom Court, Rory Best, John Afoa, Johann Muller (capt), Dan Tuohy, Stephen Ferris, Chris Henry, Pedrie Wannenburg.

Replacements: Andi Kyriacou, Paddy McAllister, Declan Fitzpatrick, Lewis Stevenson, Willie Faloon, Ian Porter, Nevin Spence, Adam D’Arcy.

CLERMONT AUVERGNE: Lee Byrne; Wesley Fofana, Aurélien Rougerie, Regan King, Noa Nakaitaci; David Skrela, Morgan Parra; Lionel Faure, Benjamin Kayser, Davit Zirakashvili, Nathan Hines, Julien Pierre, Julien Bonnaire, Gerhard Vosloo, Elvis Vermeulen.

Replacements: Ti’i Paulo, Clément Ric, Mattheus Kotze, Jason White, Julien Bardy, Kevin Senio, Brock James, Jean-Marcel Buttin.

Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ulster to win: 6/5; Draw: 18/1; Clermont Auvergne to win: 8/11

Pre-Match Quotes: Brian McLaughlin (Ulster) – “Saturday will be the proof of that pie (whether we’ve improved since the last European campaign). We learnt an awful lot last year from Europe.

“We were exceptionally disappointed with our second half display against Northampton (in the quarter-final). But we feel we have learnt a lot from it. I think the guys know now exactly what is expected of them as far as Europe’s concerned.

“Clermont Auvergne are a quality side, it’s a fantastic challenge for us and it’s one we’re all relishing and looking forward to.

“You’re not just 100% sure what way they’re going to turn up, who they’re going to play or what they’re going to do. (Aurélien) Rougerie and (Morgan) Parra didn’t play last week so it’s difficult just to judge.

“Obviously they (can) have Brock James and David Skrela at number 10, so you just have no idea of what they’re going to turn up with.

“But it’s not really about them. The key thing for us on Saturday is that Clermont are coming to Ravenhill, we have won our last eight European games there and that’s something we want to hold onto and fight for.

“We want to add Clermont to our lost of successes at Ravenhill. We know the dangers they present, but at Ravenhill – with everybody fit, hopefully – we know that we are capable of beating anybody.”

Nathan Hines (Clermont Auvergne) – “There is a real focus on Heineken Cup success here. We know and everybody knows we have a good squad at Clermont and there is a real expectation and pressure on us to be a success.

“Our coach Vern Cotter has talked about the importance of the Heineken Cup and there is a real feeling about it because of what happened to Leinster last season and in the quarter-final, the season before.

“Everybody knows how good this tournament is and what it would mean to win it.

“There is not much I can tell them (my Clermont team-mates) that they don’t already know, it’s always wet and windy at Ravenhill.

“But the Heineken Cup is important to Ulster and you only have to see how they performed in it last season to see that. They were going okay in the league but Europe was a real catalyst for them and became a real focus for the season.

“They really got their teeth stuck into the tournament last season and they will want to do the same again this time around.”

Current Form – 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

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

Previous European Meetings: 0

Heineken Cup Records:

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

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