A lot has changed since Bath’s 26-14 pre-season win at Ravenhill back in August and with two confidence-boosting league victories behind them, Ulster look poised to keep alive their hopes of making it out of Heineken Cup Pool 4.
HEINEKEN CUP: POOL 4: Saturday, December 11
ULSTER (3rd) v BATH (2nd), Ravenhill, 1.30pm (live Sky Sports 1/Xtra red button)
Team News: The Ulster team to play Bath in round 3 of the Heineken Cup at Ravenhill on Saturday has been named.
With Rory Best ruled out having sustained a fractured cheekbone during the GUINNESS Series, South African lock Johann Muller will captain Ulster as they resume their Heineken Cup Pool 4 campaign.
Ulster, who did the double over Bath in last season’s tournament, will be hoping for more of the same this time around, with back-to-back fixtures against the English side in the run-up to Christmas.
Paddy Wallace returns at inside centre having recovered from the back niggle which ruled him out of last weekend’s postponed match against the Newport Gwent Dragons.
Wallace will partner Nevin Spence in Ulster’s midfield, with the 20-year-old starlet drafted in to make his full Heineken Cup debut. Spence replaces the injured Darren Cave (hamstring).
The third and final change in the back-line sees Springbok Ruan Pienaar get the nod at scrum half. Paul Marshall makes way, joining fellow backs Ian Whitten and David McIlwaine on the replacements bench.
Up front, Muller’s return from the neck injury he sustained in Cardiff last month means that Tim Barker reverts to a bench role, while Stephen Ferris replaces Willie Faloon in a rejigged back row.
Commenting on Saturday’s tie, head coach Brian McLaughlin said: “You’ve got to win your home games in Europe, that has always been the case. Bath present a great challenge for us but if we let this one go then the following week is a dead rubber.
“So, this is a ‘must win’ to make sure that the next game is even bigger. Bath may have had a few problems this season – that’s not for me to say – but they’re always a difficult side to play against.
“They’ve got a great pedigree in this competition and we will be treating them as worthy opponents. They will be a very, very difficult side to beat.”
Meanwhile, England international Olly Barkley is set to make his 200th appearance for Bath in Belfast as a replacement.
With Shontayne Hape returning at inside centre alongside Matt Banahan, Barkley drops to the bench after starting Bath’s Aviva Premiership defeat to London Wasps last time out.
In other notable changes, Banahan will don the number 13 jersey as Jack Cuthbert reverts to the full-back role, and current England captain Lewis Moody bolsters the back row.
Argentina’s Ignacio Fernandez Lobbe also makes way in the second row for Danny Grewcock, who will partner Stuart Hooper.
Barkley, who kicked two penalties against Wasps, said: “I am really excited to be making my 200th appearance. It is a massive privilege to play for a club like Bath and a pretty special feeling. I am honoured and very lucky to have played 200 games for Bath.
“I’ve been through a lot of changes and a lot of good times, with a few hard times thrown in as well, in my time here, but regardless of results, the Rec has always been a great place to just go out and play, and the only shame is that this milestone hasn’t coincided with a game at the Rec!
“It’s not only the 200 though, it’s who you’re doing it for. It’s such a historic club and some amazing players have gone before, so to be part of that and leave a little bit of a legacy is huge.”
Bath are missing the services of captain Luke Watson and out-half Butch James who both remain on the injury list, while a bicep tear rules out lock Peter Short.
ULSTER: Adam D’Arcy; Andrew Trimble, Nevin Spence, Paddy Wallace, Simon Danielli; Ian Humphreys, Ruan Pienaar; Tom Court, Nigel Brady, BJ Botha, Johann Muller (capt), Dan Tuohy, Stephen Ferris, Chris Henry, Pedrie Wannenburg.
Replacements: Andi Kyriacou, Paddy McAllister, Bryan Young, Tim Barker, Willie Faloon, Paul Marshall, Ian Whitten, David McIlwaine.
BATH: Jack Cuthbert; Matt Carraro, Matt Banahan, Shontayne Hape, Tom Biggs; Sam Vesty, Michael Claassens (capt); David Flatman, Lee Mears, David Wilson, Stuart Hooper, Danny Grewcock, Andy Beattie, Lewis Moody, Simon Taylor.
Replacements: Pieter Dixon, David Barnes, Duncan Bell, Ignacio Fernandez Lobbe, Ben Skirving, Mark McMillan, Olly Barkley, Nick Abendanon.
Referee: Jerome Garces (France)
Assistant Referees: Laurent Cardona, Jean-Luc Rebollal (both France)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ulster to win: 4/11; Draw: 20/1; Bath to win: 2/1
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Pre-Match Quotes: Neil Doak (Ulster) – “I just think the guys enjoy the challenge Europe provides and they look forward to that. It’s a competition where they play against opponents they normally don’t get to face.
“Playing some of the top English and French sides they normally only see on television gives everybody a boost, I suppose.
“We’ve been playing well, two wins and eight tries in those games. Everybody enjoys the sort of rugby that gets people up out of their seats and on their feet.
“The people who go to Ravenhill love it when they see (Stephen) Ferris bursting through with the ball in his hands, or the likes of (Andrew) Trimble or (Simon) Danielli going past an opponent.
“As well as being great to play in, it gets spectators going too. That all adds to the energy, the electricity and really helps rack things up for the guys on the pitch.
“Bath like to play a fast game and they’re good at quick offloads, so they probably won’t want too many breakdowns.
“But this isn’t about what they want, so we’ll just have to try and make sure we play it on our terms. The difference in the past two games is that, unlike the match against Munster, we took our chances.
“It’s not that we played badly against Munster. In fact, if you look at that game, we could have had 15 or 20 points in the first half hour.
“But we didn’t finish some of what we’d created and at the top end of professional sport, you don’t get away with that.
“That’s what Munster have been so good at doing for years. They’ve been dogged in staying in a match until they’ve got a sniff and when that has come along, they’ve taken it.
“We did that against Cardiff. And against Treviso, in our last game, we produced another very good performance in terrible conditions.
“They were no Mickey Mouse side. Cardiff and ourselves are the only teams to have beaten them in the Magners League over there, though Leicester won in the Heineken Cup.”
Ian McGeechan (Bath) – “Ulster are formidable, they have spent a lot on strengthening their team. But that can bring out the best in you – you need that challenge.
“In attack we need to be a bit more dynamic and direct than we have been in recent games. That’s what we’ve been working on.
“Maybe we have been a bit predictable but we’ve had to make more changes than we would have liked.
“Obviously with our international players back there has been a buzz, and the England players have come back in good form and with a good attitude and that has a knock-on effect on the squad.
“I hope it will come down to the last couple of matches (in the pool) and it would be nice going to Biarritz with the challenge of getting points from that game.”
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; Won 37-15 away to the Cardiff Blues; Won 19-9 away to Benetton Treviso
Bath – (Aviva Premiership): Won 32-16 away to Leeds Carnegie; Won 20-13 at home to London Irish; Lost 31-10 away to Northampton Saints; Won 31-16 at home to Sale Sharks; Lost 18-3 at home to Gloucester; (Heineken Cup): Lost 12-11 at home to Biarritz Olympique; Won 22-6 away to Aironi Rugby; (Aviva Premiership): Lost 21-15 away to Leicester Tigers; Drew 6-6 away to Harlequins; (LV= Cup): Won 29-19 at home to the Cardiff Blues; Lost 18-16 away to London Wasps; (Aviva Premiership): Lost 17-13 at home to Saracens; Lost 11-6 at home to London Wasps
Top Scorers – 2010/11 Heineken Cup: Ulster – Points: Ruan Pienaar 16; Tries: Andrew Trimble 2; Bath – Points: Olly Barkley 8; Tries: Michael Claassens, Nick Abendanon, Tom Biggs, Matt Carraro, Luke Watson 1 each
Previous European Meetings: 2
Saturday, January 23, 2010 – Pool 4 – Bath 10 Ulster 28, Recreation Ground
Friday, October 9, 2009 – Pool 4 – Ulster 26 Bath 12, Ravenhill
Heineken Cup Records:
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
2009/10: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2008/09: Reached the quarter-finals
2005/06: Reached the semi-finals
2004/05: Failed to qualify from Pool 2
2001/02: Reached the quarter-finals
2000/01: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
1999/00: Failed to qualify from Pool 2
1996/97: Reached the quarter-finals