[timgcap=Ulster’s Stuart McCloskey’s physicality and robustness has drawn comparisons with Lions centre Jamie Roberts, whom he’s played against before when the Welsh star was at Harlequins. Picture: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile]StuartMcCloskeyUlsterCaptainsRun151119_large.jpg[./timgcap]
Stuart McCloskey says Ulster must “have a bit of fear” to extract the optimum performance from themselves in today’s Champions Cup opener at The Rec.
Ulster have never lost to Bath in four previous meetings in this competition and also have a tradition of starting strongly, winning eight of their last 10 round one games.
“No pressure then!” laughed McCloskey.
“Look, Bath are a quality team with world-class players all over the pitch so we’re not going over there expecting to win — we are expecting a good contest and hopefully we can come out the right side of it if we produce a performance.
“I think you have to have a bit of fear to get that performance out of yourselves.
“The way Europe is going now, every game is massive.
“Every team has the beating of the other on any day, and you have to bring your best.
“We’ve got those results (away from home) and we can have a bit of confidence from having done it before.”
Ulster are pretty much fully loaded, with Iain Henderson making his first appearance of the season after the Rugby World Cup and having succeeded Rory Best as captain, he will be desperate to make an impact this afternoon.
Fit-again Will Addison returns at full-back, replacing New Zealander Matt Faddes, with Billy Burns — who was rested against Munster last week — returning at fly-half.
Not for the first time in his career he will play against his brother Freddie, who starts at full-back.
Bath recall England’s World Cup finalists Sam Underhill, Jonathan Joseph and Ruaridh McConnochie with Joseph partnering Jamie Roberts in the centre. Another Wales international Rhys Priestland is selected at fly-half.
As one of the strongest ball carriers in Ulster’s armoury, McCloskey’s physicality and robustness has drawn comparisons with Lions centre Roberts, whom he’s played against before when the Welsh star was at Harlequins.
“A few of the guys are taking the piss out of it, saying it’s like the father and son going against each other but I like to think our styles are slightly different.
“It will be an interesting battle though.
“With Roberts you know he is going to sit down a bit more, hit pretty hard if you do run straight at him, so you have got to work out ways to sort of play him and leave different things open.
“If you are going to run the short lines you know he is going to be there. We have got to work out ways to get around that.”
Ulster averaged 181 tackles per game last season, more than any other team, on their way to winning five out of six pool games.
They advanced to the quarter-finals but lost a gripping game to Leinster in Dublin.
They are at a stage of their development under head coach Dan McFarland where they want to be featuring regularly in the knockout stages, much like seasoned specialists Leinster and Munster, to shake off the ‘nearly men’ tag.
“We have been sort of building towards that over the past couple of years and the last two and a bit years we sort of got there,” added McCloskey.
“We should have probably won that quarter-final (against Leinster).
“I think it is a case of turning those probabilities into actually winning these big games.
“But we have to win the games in the group stages first and we have done well in the last few years.
“We know every point counts, whether it is getting five, four or one over there, you need to go over and take your chances.”