Home win looks certain but bonus point is another matter

Heineken Cup Pool 4

Home win looks certain but  bonus point is another matter

Had it not been for their careless defeat to Northampton before Christmas, Mark Anscombe’s side would be looking to this one knowing a win would seal qualification and a home quarter-final to boot.

That should at least guard against a repeat and, though there has been talk of a five-point haul that would leave them needing no more than a losing bonus point in Castres next weekend to top the pool, it may not be quite so simple.

Gregor Townsend’s men have crept up to second spot in the PRO12 table thanks to three straight wins over admittedly weak opposition and they have proven to be a stubborn proposition for Ulster in their two meetings to date this season.

Ulster gritted through a low-scoring win at a soaked Scotstoun last October and endured some difficult times at the scrum in doing it. And there was no try-scoring bonus when the sides pared off at Ravenhill on the season’s first day either.

That said, a combination of injuries and tournament eligibility rules has left the visitors light on props and they have named a reduced squad of 22 for tonight’s proceedings and a side showing six changes from their defeat of Treviso.

It is a side with seven Scottish internationals yet all but one will start in the pack which re-emphasises their capabilities up front and also says something about a back line that will depend heavily on Duncan Weir and Henry Pyrgos.

Ulster have made five switches in personnel from the 15 that romped to a 30-point win over Scarlets in Belfast last week with Rory Best, John Afoa, Iain Henderson, Jared Payne and Paddy Wallace all slotting into what has been a well-oiled machine this last five months.

The last three of those take over from recent injury victims — Dan Tuohy, Adam D’Arcy and Luke Marshall — while Johann Muller, Stephen Ferris and Tommy Bowe are also unavailable due to fitness issues.

Such losses would have done for Ulster in the recent past and maybe even as recently as last year, but they have shopped carefully and should have the wherewithal to get the job done with some degree of certainty.

Whether they claim four tries is another thing. To their credit, Ulster kept going against the Scarlets last week and finally earned their reward with three late tries and a similar script may be written tonight.

PICTURE: The Ulster squad training at Ravenhill. ©INPHO/Presseye/Darren Kidd

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