Dan McFarland has made four changes to the Ulster side as they welcome a star-studded Toulouse side to Ravenhill tomorrow night.
Bolstered by returning internationals, Rob Herring and Eric O’Sullivan come into the front row with Andrew Warwick and John Andrew dropping down to the bench. In the backline Jacob Stockdale starts on the left wing with Stuart McCloskey partnering James Hume in the centre.
Unfortunate to miss out on playing in the quarter final, the presence of Marcell Coetzee will definitely be a huge boost to Ulster. What the Springbok brings to the game in physicality was missed as Ulster struggled to control the game in the Toulouse half. Billy Burns and Iain Henderson are losses, but Ian Madigan, Alan O’Connor and Sam Carter have performed well this season. This will be a step up on what Ulster have faced so far this season.
Under this new tournament format, only four pool games are played and it is likely to require three wins to progress to the next round. Going on this basis, Ulster will be aiming to beat Gloucester home and away as well as winning tomorrow night. On the other hand, Toulouse will be targeting Ulster for two wins as they also play holders Exeter Chiefs.
While Ulster are without key players Burns and Henderson due to injury and Kieran Treadwell to suspension, Toulouse are missing Francois Cros and Kiwi Jerome Kaino in the back row.
Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack have formed a formidable half back partnership at both club and international level however Thomas Ramos separates both by starting at ten. Ntamack is equally adept at 12 as he is at ten and lined out in that position for France U20s during their victorious World Championship campaign in 2018.
In August, Toulouse were rampant. They brought an intensity to the game that Ulster couldn’t live with and it took it’s toll as Ulster shipped injuries and resulted with John Cooney playing on the wing at the end of the game. At the heart of this bruising physicality was Pita Ahki.
The former Connacht player was exceptional and was unlucky to lose out on the man of the match award to Cheslin Kolbe. Ahki has recovered from an injury earlier than expected and is named on the bench. Ntamack brings a different attacking threat while I think Sofiane Guitoune will be the main ball carrier into contact in the centres.
How are they doing in the TOP14?
Even thought the dispute between the LNR and FFR was resolved, allowing each French player to appear in a maximum three matches over the international window, Toulouse still faced inconsistent team selections due to injuries to the Arnold brothers, Tekori, Kaino and Cros.
Nevertheless they sit in second place behind La Rochelle with seven wins and three losses. Lyon defeated Ugo Mola’s side at the Ernest Wallon however they have picked up good wins against the league leaders as well as away to Racing 92.
The man in the middle
English ref Matthew Carley is the referee for tomorrow night’s game while the assistants and TMO are an all Irish affair due in large to increasing travel difficulties. The TMOs for the opening two rounds are from the home side’s union.
Carley has taken charge of three Ulster matches in the past. All the games were in the Champions Cup and all were against French opposition so he must be able to ‘parle Français’. He doesn’t come under any scrutiny in any of our reports so he must be OK. 😀
|21-01-17||Champions Cup||Bordeaux-Begles||Ravenhill||22||26||Andrew Trimble|
Franco vd Merwe
|12-01-19||Champions Cup||Racing 92||Ravenhill||26||22||Rob Baloucoune|
Jacob Stockdale (2)
|11-01-20||Champions Cup||Clermont Auvergne||Marcel-Michelin||13||29||John Cooney|
The FRU predicts: I’ll back Ulster at home to most teams but this represents the biggest test of the season. There will be a dramatic increase in intensity brought by a powerful Toulouse pack but we saw Toulouse give up chances in the last match with Ulster unable to take them.
Ulster have the capability to score tries and I think we’ll not be short changed tomorrow night. Ulster by 6.
|Michael Lowry||15||Maxime Medard|
|Matt Faddes||14||Matthis Lebel|
|James Hume||13||Sofiane Guitoune|
|Stuart McCloskey||12||Romain Ntamack|
|Jacob Stockdale||11||Cheslin Kolbe|
|Ian Madigan||10||Thomas Ramos|
|John Cooney||9||Antoine Dupont|
|Eric O’Sullivan||1||Cyril Baille|
|Rob Herring||2||Julien Marchand|
|Marty Moore||3||Charlie Faumuina|
|Alan O’Connor||4||Rory Arnold|
|Sam Carter||5||Joe Tekori|
|Sean Reidy||6||Rynhardt Elstadt|
|Jordi Murphy||7||Alban Placines|
|Marcell Coetzee||8||Selevasio Tolofua|
|John Andrew||16||Guillaume Marchand|
|Andrew Warwick||17||Rodrigue Neti|
|Tom O’Toole||18||David Ainu’u|
|David O’Connor||19||Emmanuel Meafou|
|Matthew Rea||20||Louis Madaule|
|Alby Mathewson||21||Yannick Youyoutte|
|Stewart Moore||22||Pita Ahki|
|Craig Gilroy||23||Alexis Bales|