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Heineken Cup Preview: Ulster v Leicester Tigers

Heineken Cup Preview: Ulster v Leicester Tigers

Qualification for the knockout stages is still well within Ulster’s grasp as they head into tonight’s do-or-die Heineken Cup battle with Leicester Tigers armed with a two-point lead at the top of Pool 4.

HEINEKEN CUP: POOL 4: Friday, January 13

ULSTER (1st) v LEICESTER TIGERS (2nd), Ravenhill, 8pm (live Sky Sports 1/HD1)

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Team News: Ian Humphreys and Pedrie Wannenburg have won their fitness battles and have been named in Ulster’s starting line-up to face the Leicester Tigers in the sold-out Heineken Cup round 5 tie at Ravenhill.

Both Humphreys (hamstring) and Wannenburg (ankle) left the pitch with injuries during last weekend’s RaboDirect PRO12 match against Edinburgh at Murrayfield.

The selected team to play Leicester shows just one change with Paddy Wallace, who made a 20-minute cameo against Edinburgh on his return from a hand injury, named in the centre. He replaces the benched Ian Whitten.

Ulster head coach Brian McLaughlin said: “The whole team has performed well in recent weeks but we have worked on a few things in training this week to ensure that we are in peak condition and are raring to go.

“The game at Welford Road in round 2 was very tight and we were really disappointed to come away with nothing.

“To beat Leicester, you have to beat them up front. They play a game based on their set piece, and that aspect of the game will be crucial for us.”

Elsewhere, amongst the replacements, Nigel Brady is preferred to Andi Kyriacou as reserve hooker and will make his 100th appearance for the province should he be called upon during the game.

“Nigel has been a fantastic servant to Ulster Rugby over the years,” added McLaughlin.

“He is an integral member of the squad and has the respect of his team-mates and all the staff at Ulster Rugby. He is an Ulsterman through and through and he takes great pride in his performance when he takes the field.”

The Ulster players, management team and supporters got an extra boost ahead of the game this week with yesterday’s news that scrum halves Ruan Pienaar and Paul Marshall have each committed to the province for another two years

“It’s great to have Ruan and Paul with us for another couple of years. They have both shown this season that they are excellent players and it’s a great boost that they’ve decided to stay,” admitted the Ulster boss.

“Paul is unlucky not to be starting this week; it was a very tight call. Depending on what way the game is going, he is a great option to have on the bench because we know he can make a real impact if he comes on.”

The Ulster v Leicester fixture is sold out and there will be no tickets available for sale on the gates. Gates open at 6pm and those with tickets are advised to come to the ground early given the capacity crowd.

Meanwhile, Marcos Ayerza and Martin Castrogiovanni return to the Leicester Tigers front row for their all-important trip to Belfast.

Tigers director of rugby Richard Cockerill retains the same back-line that started last Saturday’s Aviva Premiership win over London Wasps, but makes alterations in the front row with Ayerza and Castrogiovanni joining Rob Hawkins.

“We’ve got a couple of guys back from injury and we’ve rotated the squad over the last few weeks so we go there fresh and ready,” said Cockerill.

“We’ve been going well recently and that good form allows us to take some confidence in our game.

“It will be tough because Ulster are a good team and it is a very tough pool. It is a ‘must win’ game for both sides. At this stage of the Heineken Cup that is what it is all about.”

ULSTER: Stefan Terblanche; Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, 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: Nigel Brady, Callum Black, Adam Macklin, Lewis Stevenson, Willie Faloon, Paul Marshall, Ian Whitten, Adam D’Arcy.

LEICESTER TIGERS: Geordan Murphy (capt); Horacio Agulla, Matt Smith, Anthony Allen, Alesana Tuilagi; Billy Twelvetrees, Ben Youngs; Marcos Ayerza, Rob Hawkins, Martin Castrogiovanni, Steve Mafi, Geoff Parling, Tom Croft, Julian Salvi, Thomas Waldrom.

Replacements: George Chuter, Boris Stankovich, Dan Cole, Ed Slater, Ben Woods, Sam Harrison, Jeremy Staunton, Scott Hamilton.

Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant Referees: Patrick Pechambert, Eric Soulan (both France)
Television Match Official: Daniel Gillet (France)

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

Pre-Match Quotes: Andrew Trimble (Ulster) – “We have come quite a long way since our last match at Welford Road and as our last results have shown we are starting to build nicely and are positive we can take that confidence through to this weekend’s match.

“Leicester are a top European side and it was only ever a matter of time until they got their season off the ground, they are a ‘big game’ side and we know they will be arriving thinking that they can repeat the result at Welford Road.

“This is what it’s all about: Friday night, Ravenhill, Heineken Cup – this is why we play. I have some fantastic memories of European rugby at home and Toulouse (in 2006) stands out for me – it was just a brilliant afternoon in Belfast.

“Fortunately we are usually able to put in a performance worthy of the occasion and atmosphere in the Heineken Cup. Our record at home is pretty significant.

“This is a massive moment and I think our season will be defined by our next two games. But we have been slowly gathering momentum and are in a really good position to take Leicester on.”

Geordan Murphy (Leicester Tigers) – “Ravenhill is a fortress – Ulster have beaten pretty much every top side at home. They’re very successful at Ravenhill, especially on a Friday night. It’s a very tough place to go and get a win.

“They beat Clermont there in the first game of the group and showed what a good side they are. Then they came to us and did a pretty good job as well, so I’m expecting a very difficult match.

“It will be no different to any final or any game as big as that – we’re going to have to put in a very good performance up front, be defensively sound and kick our goals. It will be an arm wrestle and hopefully we get a bit of luck.

“I knew when I saw the draw that it was going to be very difficult to get out of the pool.

“It’s turned out to be a very tight group. Ulster are a very, very strong side at home and Clermont are also very difficult to beat. To have the group in our control, we have to go and get two wins in the final two games.”

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; (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

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; Won 20-9 at home to Ulster; (Aviva Premiership): Won 19-14 away to Gloucester; Won 30-25 at home to Northampton Saints; (Heineken Cup): Lost 30-12 away to Clermont Auvergne; Won 23-19 at home to Clermont Auvergne; (Aviva Premiership): Won 32-12 away to Worcester Warriors; Won 28-23 at home to Sale Sharks; Won 29-11 at home to London Wasps

Top Scorers – 2011/12 Heineken Cup: Ulster – Points: Ian Humphreys 43; Tries: Andrew Trimble 2; Leicester Tigers – Points: Toby Flood 43; Tries: Niall Morris, Alesana Tuilagi, Tom Croft, Matt Smith, Ben Youngs, Manu Tuilagi, Julian Salvi 1 each

Previous European Meetings: 3

Saturday, November 19, 2011 – Pool 4 – Leicester Tigers 20 Ulster 9, Welford Road
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:

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

Leicester Tigers –
2010/11: Reached the quarter-finals
2009/10: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
2008/09: Runners-up
2007/08: Failed to qualify from Pool 6
2006/07: Runners-up
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
2001/02: Champions
2000/01: Champions
1999/00: Failed to qualify from Pool 1
1997/98: Reached the quarter-finals
1996/97: Runners-up