Ulster close to full strength for Champions Cup opener

Ulster are hoping to field their best available team when they travel to France for the Pool 5 Champions Cup opener against Bordeaux-Begles.

Ulster close to full strength for Champions Cup opener

Andrew Trimble, Luke Olding, Stuart Olding and Franco van Der Merwe along with Charles Piutau, trained with the squad yesterday which will make up for the expected lengthy absence of Louis Ludik who underwent surgery yesterday for a fractured cheek bone, and Darren Cave’s torn calf.

Travelling to France was annually bogey territory for Ulster until 2012 when they defeated Castres, which was quickly followed by wins in Montpellier, and former champions Toulouse. Bordeaux-Begles are new kids on the block under the gaze of former France hooker and captain Raphael Ibanez, attack coach Emile Ntamak and defence coach Joe Worsley, the former England flanker.

However, Ireland winger Craig Gilroy believes that despite the defeat by Connacht last week, Ulster have the fire-power to win on the road having addressed the problems from the first defeat of the season.

“It was very disappointing in Galway, particularly the way we started. We could have won, and indeed, we left a lot out on the pitch,” said Gilroy.

“It was very frustrating for us and we went through everything we needed to do and we righted a lot of wrongs in training. There were some positives in that game, for example the way we were able to fight back,” said Gilroy, who expects his close friend Paddy Jackson to continue his great form of late against Ian Madigan.

“They’ve played with, and against, each other a number of times, and they have a friendship on the one hand, but keen rivalry on the other. To be honest, Jacko is a key man on our team, and if he plays, Ian will be for them too.

“Since he returned this season, Jacko has been unbelievable. He’s a joy to play with, and it’s great to see the way he’s improving and getting better in every game. I played with Jacko at school and he has come on so much. He had a fantastic summer tour with Ireland and has carried that form right into this season,” explained Gilroy, who believes Ulster have kicked the habit of losing in France.

“When we beat Castres a few years ago, it was our first win in France and a big monkey off our backs. Since then we have done it a fair bit, including against Toulouse last season. Certainly that will give us a lot of confidence that we will heavily bank on.

“Yes, Bordeaux are a very impressive side and have won their last three games and are playing with a lot of confidence. They are a bit of an un-predictive team as they throw the ball around a bit, so you need to be on your toes.

“At present we are still feeling good despite losing our last game. We just have to get it into our minds, how good we can be. It’s important to get that first game over with a win and get the momentum going. At least we have a Sunday game this week and an extra few days to prepare.

“People looking in, don’t really realise how important that is for the players. Those extra two days are invaluable, not only for recovery but those little pieces of detail which will make all the difference.”

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