Ulster have a chance to go two from two for the first time since 2013 as they take on a resurgent Clermont side at Kingspan Stadium tomorrow evening.
Dan McFarland has made four changes from the side that defeated Bath on Saturday. Louis Ludik replaces the injured Rob Lyttle, Eric O’Sullivan starts at loosehead instead of Jack McGrath, Alan O’Connor comes in for Sam Carter and Sean Reidy replaces Matty Rea.
O’Sullivan starts alongside Rob Herring and Marty Moore while O’Connor occupies the lock jersey alongside Iain Henderson. A back row of Reidy, Jordi Murphy and Marcell Coetzee will have their hands full against Peceli Yato, Arthur Iturria and Fritz Lee.
In the back line, John Cooney and Billy Burns resume at half backs while Luke Marshall continues alongside Stuart McCloskey in the back line. Marshall was excellent against Bath and it doesn’t get any easier as he is tasked with defending Isaia Toeva in the Clermont 13 jersey. Jacob Stockdale, Louis Ludik and Will Addison are Ulster’s back three options.
All three of the Clermont back row are excellent ball carriers. Peceli Yato loves to lurk in the wide channels and possess great pace and a lethal offload. Against Harlequins last weekend, he made 132m off 13 carries and offloaded three times. Ulster have shown in the past that they can limit the damage of offloading Fijians, with Leone Nakarawa not having a lot of joy in his games here with Glasgow Warriors and Racing 92.
I suspect McFarland has selected Ludik to counter the threat posed by Alivereti Raka on the left wing. The winger made his debut for France in August and tore Harlequins apart, scoring a brace in a superb performance. Standing at 6ft2 and weighing over 90 kilos, Raka can shift and I don’t envy the task ahead of Ludik tomorrow night.
Ulster have a right to be confident tomorrow. Bordeaux and Toulon are the only French sides to travel to Kingspan and win since 2008 with Clermont visiting twice in 2011 and 2016. Ian Humphreys scored the decisive try in 2011 while Ulster ran in five tries in 2016.
On paper Clermont are at full strength bar half back with Morgan Parra and Camille Lopez named on the bench. It’ll be a tough battle but I see no reason why Ulster cannot create another super Friday night under the lights in the European Cup.
The FRU predicts: I think Ulster have enough in the tank to get the job done, but expect Clermont to come away with a losing bonus point. Ulster by six.
|Will Addison||15||Nick Abendanon|
|Louis Ludik||14||Peter Betham|
|Luke Marshall||13||Isaia Toeva|
|Stuart McCloskey||12||George Moala|
|Jacob Stockdale||11||Alivereti Raka|
|Billy Burns||10||Jake McIntyre|
|John Cooney||9||Greig Laidlaw|
|Eric O’Sullivan||1||Etienne Falgoux|
|Rob Herring||2||John Ulugia|
|Marty Moore||3||Rabah Slimani|
|Alan O’Connor||4||Paul Jedrasiak|
|Iain Henderson||5||Sitaleki Timani|
|Sean Reidy||6||Peceli Yato|
|Jordi Murphy||7||Arthur Iturria|
|Marcell Coetzee||8||Fritz Lee|
|Adam McBurney||16||Mike Tadjer|
|Kyle McCall||17||Loni Uhila|
|Tom O’Toole||18||Davit Zirakashvili|
|Kieran Treadwell||19||Thibault Lanen|
|Nick Timoney||20||Lucas Dessaigne|
|Dave Shanahan||21||Morgan Parra|
|Bill Johnston||22||Camille Lopez|
|Craig Gilroy||23||Apisai Naqalevu|