Diamond ready for 'massive' cup clash

Saracens face a crucial Heineken Cup clash against Ulster in Belfast tomorrow night, with rugby director Steve Diamond admitting: “We don’t need to motivate the players for this game.”

Saracens face a crucial Heineken Cup clash against Ulster in Belfast tomorrow night, with rugby director Steve Diamond admitting: “We don’t need to motivate the players for this game.”

Pool Four leaders Saracens are three points clear of Ulster, thanks to a stunning victory over French giants Biarritz in their European opener, and success at Ravenhill would strengthen hopes of an automatic quarter-final place.

Ulster though, are ferociously tough opponents to crack on home soil – as previous Heineken Cup victims like Toulouse, Stade Francais, Leicester and Wasps can testify – so Diamond knows exactly what is coming Saracens’ way.

“This is obviously a very big game for both sides,” he said.

“We don’t need to motivate the players for this game we all know that we’ve got a massive match on our hands.

“Ravenhill is a very tough place to play, but we’ve got to try to look to use the energy of their crowd to our advantage. It’s a game that we are all looking forward to, and we need to go there with the right mentality.”

French star Thomas Castaignede returns to the Saracens line-up following his autumn Test commitments, featuring at outside centre, while Kyran Bracken, Glen Jackson, Dan Scarbrough, Kevin Sorrell, Cobus Visagie, Kevin Yates and Simon Raiwalui are also back in action.

But with injuries to forwards Taine Randell, Iain Fullarton and Nick Lloyd, Saracens have recalled flanker Ben Russell from England sevens duty in South Africa and he lines up in the back-row, with David Seymour dropping to replacement duty.

“As we are selecting from the squad of 36 who have been named for the Heineken Cup group stages, we are unable to call on players like Tom Ryder, Steffon Armitage and Adam Powell, who all did well against Wasps last weekend, as they aren’t registered,” said Saracens head coach Mike Ford.

“But our philosophy has always been to concentrate on the 22 players who will take the field, and not concern ourselves with injuries. We firmly believe the team that is travelling to Ulster is good enough to win.”

Guinness Premiership leaders Sale Sharks, despite the considerable presence of Munster and French challengers Castres, hold a four-point advantage at the Pool One summit, a position they can strengthen by winning in Castres tomorrow night.

Sharks have named a 25-man squad, including just seven of the players involved in last Friday’s 24-23 Powergen Cup defeat at Llanelli.

England prop Andrew Sheridan is set to start after recovering from an ankle injury that forced him off against Twickenham opponents Samoa a fortnight ago, while Sheridan’s red rose colleagues Mark Cueto and Charlie Hodgson are also back.

“We played Castres in a warm-up game before the season started, and we won on that occasion, but all the players know we face a tougher test on Friday,” said Sharks coach Kingsley Jones.

In the second-tier European Challenge Cup tomorrow, Bristol will move top of their qualifying pool if they beat Italian hosts Viadana.

“We are going there and looking for a win, and a try-scoring bonus point as well would be ideal,” said Bristol head coach Richard Hill, whose team’s January trip to Northampton already looks a pivotal encounter.

“Viadana will be tough – Italian teams always are at home. We haven’t done as much analysis as we do for the Premiership, but we are still aiming for the win.”

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