With HCup Mark II about to kick off, Kristian Ross has a look at Ulster's chances...
With the European break now approaching rapidly, Ulster Rugby turn their attention to the inaugural Champions Cup as they travel to Welford Road this Saturday.
Buoyed off the back of a superb win over Glasgow Warriors in the PRO12, it looks as if Ulster have hit high gear at the right time yet again. Leicester Tigers haven't exactly had their most memorable start to the season either, just the two wins with their latest win coming against a poor Quins side last Friday night.
However the always say that a wounded animal is the most dangerous, Leicester still have an injury list that would give most DoR’s nightmares, but they’ll take great solace in the fact that Manu Tuilagi made his return last week and will be one of the main threats to the Ulster line. Looking back at last year’s win, Ulster provided one of the most memorable victories not just in European but Heineken Cup history, handing the Tigers their first defeat at home in the tournament since the 2006/07 season.
This time round, Ulster will need just as much verve and determination as the last time they made the trip to the Midlands and with news today of Andrew Trimble having a potential broken toe, the task may have got even harder with the loss of a wing that has seen the best form of his career in the last twelve months. Leicester of course possess some incredibly talented and tactically astute players… here are three that the Ulstermen should be watching out for….
BLAINE SCULLY :
Scully was born in Sacremento, California and is frightfully good at running at defenders as well as some nifty ball handling skills. Part of the USA Eagles squad, Scully can player either fullback or wing having joined the Tigers last summer. He was one of the outstanding players against Quins last Friday. A real talent with oodles of potential.
OWEN WILLIAMS :
Like Skully, Williams joined the Tigers last summer from Welsh regional side the Scarlets. The 22 year old from Neath has impressed me on many occasion and although from what I’ve seen he isn't the most competent at kicking for territory, it’s his performance off the tee that Ulster need to be wary of. The northern province have been guilty all too many a time of giving away needless penalties and if Williams is given his chance in the Ulster half, he will be likely to punish.
BRAD THORN :
He’s won it all, Super Rugby, Heineken Cup, the World Cup, you name it, Brad Thorn has got it, he’s more decorated than an interior designer’s Thames apartment. Thorn’s success is all through his hard work and he’ll major cog in the Leicester machine come this Saturday. A key figure in the second row, Thorn will be looking to upset Ulster in the scrum and will use his raw power to do so. This man knows how to win and win big….
Ulster will have to tread carefully at Welford Road, the amount of game changers that Leicester have in their squad is frightfully brilliant, not to mention the fact that Richard Cockerill will be looking to get off to the best possible start considering how much of the European game the Tigers have dominated over the year. Ulster need to make sure that players such as Tommy Bowe and Jared Payne are firing on all cylinders, a bad game for a big name in the Ulster camp could spell disaster this weekend.
As we start yet another season of watching our beloved sides travel around Europe, I look at Ulster and think to myself, in a pool that contains two heavyweights of Northern Hemisphere rugby, making it out of the group would simply be an achievement in itself. Ulster now have stability with Neil Doak as coach on a temporary basis, and with the majority of star players fit, their can be no excuses for a poor performance this Saturday… sit back, relax and try not to bit your finger nails too much. It’s the European Champions Cup…. or for all you die hards like me… Heineken Cup : MARK II
Kristian. 20. Geordie. Fond of Wasps, Falcons and Ulster. @Kristian7Ross
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