As he prepares to lead Ulster out at home for the first time since taking over as captain, Iain Henderson has a vision of what he wants.
Make the hard yards now, get the wins on the board now to make things easier later, is the message he’s been driving home this week. That, and a desire to make Kingspan Stadium a fortress again.
Clermont, last season’s Challenge Cup winners, are the visitors to Kingspan Stadium and while they have not been quite the force of old, tonight’s clash is an opportunity for them to show Europe they are a coming force again, but the new skipper has other ideas.
“To see a team coming over who has done so well in recent years on the European and French stage, it gives guys an opportunity to have a crack and ensure this stadium holds a wee bit of fear for anyone coming here,” said Henderson.
Henderson was man of the match the last time Clermont came to town three years ago. In the four occasion they’ve met, the home team has won every time and after a dramatic 17-16 win at Bath last week, Ulster are aiming to back it up and take early control of the pool with two wins from two.
“This game is massive and could definitely set the tone,” Henderson said.
“How many times have we been struggling, trying to scrape a point in the last game of Europe or trying to scrape a few league points to make sure we’re qualified for Europe?
“If we can do the work now, get our work done early in the season, it will take a lot of pressure off later.
“We play our best rugby when we know we have all the work done, all the hard work is behind us and we can just concentrate on playing.”
Last week’s win over Bath came at a cost for Ulster, who lost Jack McGrath, Sam Carter and Rob Lyttle through injury. In come Louis Ludik, Alan O’Connor and Eric O’Sullivan, who packs down in the front row alongside Marty Moore, who signed a new two-year deal yesterday. Sean Reidy is selected ahead of Mattie Rea.
Clermont have named half-back stars Morgan Parra and Camille Lopez on the bench, giving Greig Laidlaw and Australian Jake McIntyre a chance to run the show, but Ulster should have plenty to say about that.
ULSTER: W Addison, L Ludik, L Marshall, S McCloskey, J Stockdale, B Burns, J Cooney; E O’Sullivan, R Herring, M Moore, A O’Connor, I Henderson (c), S Reidy, J Murphy, M Coetzee.
Replacements: A McBurney, K McCall, T O’Toole, K Treadwell, N Timoney, D Shanahan, B Johnston, C Gilroy.
CLERMONT AUVERGNE: N Abendanon, P Betham, I Toeava, G Moala, A Raka, J McIntyre, G Laidlaw; E Falgoux, J Ulugia, R Slimani, P Jedrasiak, S Timani, P Yato, A Iturria, Fritz Lee (c).
Replacements: M Tadjer, L Uhila, D Zirakashvili, T Lanen, L Dessaigne, M Parra, C Lopez, A Naqalevu.
Referee: JP Doyle (England)