In Pool 5 Ulster travel to Castres knowing qualification for the knock-out stages of the Heineken Cup is in the bag but a home quarter-final tie still eludes Mark Anscombe’s team.
Anscombe has made four changes to his team for tomorrows game. Paddy Jackson misses out as the Kiwi coach prefers to partner Paul Marshall with Ruan Pienaar. Craig Gilroy steps into the full-back position in place of the injured Jared Payne and Micheal Allen comes in on the left wing for his first Heineken Cup start. Iain Henderson drops to bench and is replaced by Neil McComb in the second-row. McComb is also making his first start in Europe this season.
Still unavailable through injury are Nick Williams, Stephen Ferris, Johann Muller and Tommy Bowe.
Last year’s Heineken Cup finalists have had a fantastic season so far tasting defeat only once in all competitions but winning in France will be a tricky task, with Castres fourth in the French Top 14 and going well.
Similarly, Castres has lost only once at home this season and use their powerful, dominating pack to bully teams around the park. Seeing that Ulster’s pack is also a formidable unit, the game may hinge on which set of forwards gets to grips with the pace first.
In October, Ulster got off to the perfect start beating Castres at Ravenhill 44-17 scoring four tires. Something that has been a feature of the Northerner’s play this year is the ease at which they can score tries when needed, not forgetting their impressive defense.
There’s no immediate need for a bonus point win here or anything spectacular from Chris Henry’s team as there are many permutations for Ulster to claim a home quarter-final tie.
However, Ulster has never won a competitive game in France and, with Northampton Saints almost a sure bet to beat Glasgow Warriors, Ulster will be focused on sealing a home quarter-final tie.
(15-9): C Gilroy; A Trimble, D Cave, P Wallace, M Allen; R Pienaar, P Marshall;
(1-8): T Court, R Best, J Afoa, L Stevenson, N McComb, R Diack, C Henry (capt), R Wilson;
Replacements (16-23): R Herring, C Black, D Fitzpatrick, I Henderson, M McComish, M Heaney, P Jackson, C Cochrane.