Ulster have the opportunity to do the double over Montpellier at Ravenhill tonight, and with that taking a step closer to their fourth Heineken Cup quarter-final appearance in as many years.
HEINEKEN CUP POOL 5: Friday, January 10
ULSTER (1st) v MONTPELLIER (3rd), Ravenhill, 8pm (live Sky Sports 2 HD/BBC Radio Ulster MW/Newstalk/highlights TG4)
Team News: Rory Best and team captain Johann Muller have recovered from injury to be named in the Ulster team to face Montpellier at Ravenhill.
Best suffered a broken arm playing for Ireland in the narrow defeat to the All Blacks seven weeks ago. He has returned to play ahead of schedule and is selected in the front row alongside John Afoa and Tom Court.
Commenting on being back for Ulster, the fit-again hooker said: “I knew that it was going to be a tight ask to get back for these games, but it is testament to the medical team that we have here, Michael Eames the surgeon and the strength and conditioning coaches at Ulster that I am back.
“I have been fortunate that there have been no setbacks along the way and it has just been a case of trying to push on and thankfully I have come through.”
Muller, who captains the side, missed last weekend’s game against Munster with a calf strain and returns to the second row where he partners Dan Tuohy.
Nick Williams and Chris Henry start in the back row, with Robbie Diack continuing at blindside.
The same backline that started against Munster is selected to take on Montpellier, with Ruan Pienaar at scrum half, Paddy Jackson at out-half, Luke Marshall and Darren Cave in midfield and Craig Gilroy, Andrew Trimble and Jared Payne in the back-three.
The Sky Sports 2-televised match will be particularly significant for right winger Trimble. He will play his 58th game in the Heineken Cup, setting a new Ulster appearance record in the competition.
Meanwhile, former Ulster winger Timoci Nagusa will start on the bench for what is a weakened Montpellier side.
A host of frontline players are absent for the trip to Belfast, including captain Fulgence Ouedraogo (injured), Francois Trinh-Duc, New Zealand recruit Rene Ranger, Nicolas Mas, Mamuka Gorgodze and Jim Hamilton as head coach Fabien Galthié focuses on their domestic concerns.
The back-to-back defeats to Leicester Tigers last month have knocked Galthié’s men out of Heineken Cup contention, and Montpellier have certainly struggled since Ulster beat them in October – winning only two of their nine games since then.
Full-back Anthony Floch, centre Anthony Tuitavke, back rower Kelian Galletier and prop Maximiliano Bustos are the only players retained from the Montpellier team that started against Ulster in that 25-8 round 2 reversal.
ULSTER: Jared Payne; Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, Luke Marshall, Craig Gilroy; Paddy Jackson, Ruan Pienaar; Tom Court, Rory Best, John Afoa, Johann Muller (capt), Dan Tuohy, Robbie Diack, Chris Henry, Nick Williams.
Replacements: Rob Herring, Callum Black, Declan Fitzpatrick, Iain Henderson, Roger Wilson, Sean Doyle, Paul Marshall, Michael Allen.
MONTPELLIER: Anthony Floch; Yohann Artru, Anthony Tuitavke, Thomas Combezou, Lucas Dupont; Enzo Selponi, Eric Escande; Na’ama Leleimalefaga, Charles Geli (capt), Maximiliano Bustos, Mickael Demarco, Robins Tchale Watchou, Kelian Galletier, Alexandre Bias, Johnnie Beattie.
Replacements: Thomas Bianchin, Mikheil Nariashvili, Paea Fa’anunu, Mickael Ivaldi, Fred Quercy, Benoit Paillaugue, Pierre Berard, Timoci Nagusa.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant Referees: Tim Wigglesworth, Stuart Terheege (both England)
Television Match Official: Sean Davey (England)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ulster to win: 1/33; Draw: 40/1; Montpellier to win: 11/1
Pre-Match Quotes: Mark Anscombe (Ulster) – “That (round 2) win in France was a long time ago. I think we’ve all got to move on from that. The fact is that we’ve got them at home and we’re going to try and bring some of the momentum we showed last week (against Munster) into the game.
“They’re away and it doesn’t look as though they can qualify. The one thing you never know with Montpellier is who they’ll choose.
“The team that we played was totally different to the one they put out against Leicester Tigers – and that side nearly tripped Leicester up. That just shows that there’s not a lot of difference in the 36 or 37 players in their squad.
“We won’t be fooled into expecting them to field a weak side. They’ve got international players in their squad and they’re not going to be coming here for a holiday weekend.”
Darren Cave (Ulster) – “In France you don’t see every match but I’ve been keeping an eye on Montpellier’s results and they have probably lost a few more games than they are used to.
“There is no reason why they would rest or rotate this week, there is a couple of weeks before the Top 14.
“If I was Montpellier I’d be coming to Ravenhill full strength, going ‘we can’t get out of our pool in Europe but if we get a good result and performance we can get the Top 14 season back on track’.
“I think Ulster and Leicester both fall into the same category this week, we’re both favorites to win (these round 5 games).
“I think back going into round 5 with Ulster in 08/09 where we were out of the competition but we beat Harlequins at Ravenhill, and while you know you can’t qualify from your group and you’re not going to win the Heineken Cup there is still a big chance to get a scalp.
“The teams in our group that are out of it will be heavily going for a scalp this week. If you sit and worry about this and that and teams get the calculators out and then end up losing matches, you just have to focus and control what you can control and win matches.”
Current Form – Ulster – (RaboDirect PRO12): Lost 15-8 away to the Newport Gwent Dragons; Lost 13-12 at home to Glasgow Warriors; Won 18-7 away to Connacht; Won 32-13 at home to Benetton Treviso; Won 18-12 away to the Ospreys; (Heineken Cup): Won 22-16 at home to Leicester Tigers; Won 25-8 away to Montpellier; (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 39-21 at home to Cardiff Blues; Lost 17-9 away to the Scarlets; Won 41-17 at home to Edinburgh; Won 19-11 away to Zebre; (Heineken Cup): Won 48-0 at home to Benetton Treviso; Won 35-3 away to Benetton Treviso; (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 13-6 at home to Zebre; Lost 19-6 away to Leinster; Won 29-19 at home to Munster
Montpellier – (Top 14 Championship): Drew 22-22 at home to Toulon; Lost 19-12 away to Biarritz Olympique; Won 33-24 at home to Brive; Won 36-29 away to Bordeaux-Begles; Won 25-0 at home to Toulouse; Lost 28-16 away to Perpignan; Won 43-3 at home to Clermont Auvergne; Lost 18-11 away to Stade Francais; Won 45-20 at home to Oyonnax; (Heineken Cup): Won 27-10 away to Benetton Treviso; Lost 25-8 at home to Ulster; (Top 14 Championship): Lost 24-19 away to Bayonne; Won 25-18 at home to Grenoble; Lost 20-16 at home to Castres Olympique; Lost 17-12 away to Racing Metro 92; (Heineken Cup): Lost 41-32 away to Leicester Tigers; Lost 15-14 at home to Leicester Tigers; (Top 14 Championship): Lost 43-10 away to Toulon; Won 48-22 at home to Biarritz Olympique; Lost 15-9 away to Brive
Top Scorers – 2013/14 Heineken Cup: Ulster – Points: Paddy Jackson 55; Tries: Luke Marshall 3; Montpellier – Points: Jonathan Pelissie 23; Tries: Pierre Berard 2
Previous European Meetings: 1
Saturday, October 19, 2013 – Pool 5 – Montpellier 8 Ulster 25, Stade Yves du Manoir
Heineken Cup Records:
2012/13: 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
2012/13: Reached the quarter-finals
2011/12: Failed to qualify from Pool 3