Gilroy ready for 'dream' decider
January 16, 2012
Craig Gilroy dives over for Ulster © Getty Images
Ulster's Craig Gilroy claims it would be a "complete dream" to face Clermont Auvergne in the Pool 4 decider but is adamant he will be solely focused on the win and not the famous personnel on the opposition side.
Ulster, the 1999 European champions, have never managed successive knock-out stages participation but the try bonus point victory over Leicester Tigers and their fourth group win propelled them into pole position, with the French club three points adrift despite their 82-0 victory over Aironi Rugby in Monza. Ulster won the home clash with Clermont 16-11 but Gilroy - a try scorer against the Tigers - is quick to warn that Aurelien Rougerie's team will be a tough nut to crack in front of their passionate fans.
"It goes up a notch again next week, absolutely no question about that," said the 20-year-old wing. "The reality is that the win over Leicester will mean nothing unless we go over to Clermont and put in a performance. However the win definitely gives us belief - and shows that we can beat any team in the competition - so we have to take the positives and try and replicate those in France. We'll just get back to work and try and make sure everything's right for Saturday.
"And we proved that we can beat them when we won the Round 1 match back in November. Obviously we had home advantage on that occasion, but we beat them nevertheless and we know we can beat them home and away and that's what we'll be looking to do.
"That said, they are a great team especially among their backs where they have got some of the best players in the world.
"It still amazes me that I could be playing against them - it is a complete dream. It's only just over 12 months since I made my debut and to play against the likes of Sitiveni Sivivatu, Lee Byrne and Rougerie, it's crazy. But I can't let myself get star struck. I would just have to play the best I can no matter who I might be up against."
Ulster could also play their part in a piece of Heineken Cup history for Irish rugby - Ireland have never had three clubs in the knock-out stages of any of the previous 16 tournaments - but now a new benchmark is possible for a nation which has won five Heineken Cup crowns.
"Last Friday was a really special night - it is nights like that which remind you why you love the game so much," added Gilroy."It was a great feeling, a great buzz and a fantastic win. The Heineken Cup is up another level, you really have to up your game so to not only win but to get a bonus point was amazing.
"It puts us on the front foot going into next weekend. I hope we can reproduce what we did against Leicester and take that over to France. Ravenhill is our fortress but we believe we have one of the best teams in the competition and we want to be able to beat any team no matter where we play."
But one worry ahead of the clash is the fitness of Darren Cave. The centre has been one of Ulster's form players this season and he is struggling with a foot injury sustained in their win over the Tigers.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
"I had a couple of injuries before but this was different." Tom Hamilton talks to Scott Williams about the O'Driscoll tackle, Wales and Scarlets
"To be the best it's not about the flash stuff, it's actually about everything done at a very high level." Tom Hamilton on the England squad
Huw Richards rewinds to 1864 to mark the birth of Welsh rugby's first authentic star - Arthur Gould
Michael Cheika has succeeded in becoming the Wallabies coach under his own terms, writes Greg Growden