Make-or-break time for Ulster
January 13, 2011
Andrew Trimble has signed a new Ulster deal and starts against Biarritz © Getty Images
Ulster face a make-or-break tie with Biarritz at Ravenhill on Saturday as they look to make the Heineken Cup quarter-finals for the first time since the 1998-99 season, when fly-half David Humphreys led them all the way to the title.
Ulster were heavily beaten 35-15 at the Parc des Sports Aguilera earlier in the competition but are poised to record an upset after beating Bath home and away over the festive period.
During that time their rivals, who are three points clear at the top of Pool 4, slipped to a shock defeat to Italian side Aironi before bouncing back on home soil. A win in front of their Ravenhill faithful this weekend will put Ulster in the box seat heading into round six, where they face an Italian job.
Ulster - Player to Watch: Stephen Ferris is the heart and soul of this Ulster side and the Ireland international's return to fitness could not have come at a better time.
Ulster - Team News: Ferris' return to the back-row sees Chris Henry drop to the bench, while Dan Tuohy is given the nod in the second row after agreeing a new deal with the province this week.
Biarritz - Player to Watch: Damien Traille has been entrusted with the fly-half jersey despite a patchy showing at first receiver in France's November internationals.
Biarritz - Team News: Imanol Harinordoquy starts at openside, while the always dangerous Takudzwa Ngwenya has been named on the wing. Dimitri Yachvili starts in harness with Traille and will likely take on much of the playmaking burden.
Key Battle: Ian Humphreys has shown flashes so far this season of the skills that make him arguably Ireland's most naturally-gifted playmaker, but he will have to combat the powerful Traille's offloading game and also fight fire with fire in the territorial battle against Yachvili.
Trivia: During their march to the title in 1998-99, Ulster played French opposition on five occasions, meeting Toulouse three times and beating Stade Francais and Colomiers in the last four and final.
Stats: Biarritz scrum-half Dimitri Yachvili is tied with Glasgow's Ruaridh Jackson as the fourth highest points scorer in this season's tournament, with 48.
"They have a very good set-piece and their line-out work and maul are extremely potent. But we did very well against them at Biarritz before and are confident of matching them." - Ulster boss Brian McLaughlin.
"It is always complicated to play there with the wind, the rain and a referee who always has an Irish cousin." - Biarritz hooker Benoit August fans the flames prior to kick-off.
Prediction: Ulster to sneak the win, but Biarritz to bag a vital losing bonus-point to leave qualification in the balance.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Paul Eddison explains how the French sold English clubs down the river and why their domestic game will go from strength-to-strength as a result
'Nothing can prepare you for the noise of the Millennium Stadium though, you just can't hear anything." Tom Hamilton talks to Cory Allen
Following a weekend where Wales suffered more heartbreak against Australia and the Aviva Premiership showed its class, the Monday Maul looks back at some of the key talking points
"Every game I want to win, I want to be successful. I want to play for England and I want to win the World Cup." Tom Hamilton talks to Danny Care