Ed Slater speaks to skysports.com ahead of Leicester Tigers' Heineken Cup opener against Ulster
By Tony Tighe. Last Updated: 10/10/13 6:55pm
Ed Slater scored his second try of the season in Leicester's draw with Northampton last weekend
Leicester Tigers have enjoyed some memorable days in the Heineken Cup, but their two trips to Ravenhill are occasions they'd rather forget.
Both of the Tigers' visits to Belfast have culminated in their two heaviest defeats in the competition, the last of those a devastating 34-point loss in January 2012.
Ed Slater was among the Leicester replacements on that ill-fated night and it didn't make for pretty viewing. The visitors were blown away by their rampant hosts, who ran out 41-7 victors to all but end their opponents' hopes of reaching the knockout stages.
"I came off the bench with about 15 minutes to go and the game was already over," recalls Slater. "We didn't deal with their physicality up front. They brought it to us and we didn't respond in the way we needed to.
"We went home with our tails between our legs."
Leicester return to Ravenhill on Friday night for their pool five opener and Slater is expecting another bruising contest. However, he believes the Tigers' recent Aviva Premiership outings have served as the ideal preparation for their trip across the Irish Sea.
"You'd like to think that a win at Ravenhill will put us in pole position but we're under no illusions; it's going to be a really hard game."
"Ulster are a side that relies on their physicality and looks to get on top of teams," said the 25-year-old. "They've got a big forward pack but I think we've done quite well in that department in our last two games against Exeter and Northampton, who are both very physical as well. We're well prepared."
Pool five, which also includes Montpellier and Treviso, is one of the most exciting and competitive groups in this season's Heineken Cup. On paper it looks to be a straight shoot-out between Leicester, Ulster and Montpellier for top spot, and Slater knows that any points gained on the road could prove decisive come the end of January.
"You'd like to think that a win at Ravenhill will put us in pole position but we're under no illusions; it's going to be a really hard game," he said.
"We came out of a difficult group with Toulouse, Ospreys and Treviso last year, and this one is just as difficult. If we can go to Ravenhill and pull out an 80-minute performance to win, we'll put ourselves in a really strong position in the group.
"Obviously, first and foremost you have to look at winning your home games and try to pick up try bonus points, but any away wins are massive. It's a tough start for us but it would be a big statement if we came away with a win."
Having suffered disappointment during the summer, where surgery on a torn tricep ruled him out of England's tour of Argentina, Slater has started this season with gusto. His late try secured a draw against Northampton last weekend, and his level of performance hasn't waned despite switching from the second row to blindside.
"I'm reasonably happy," said the 25-year-old, who has made 56 appearances for Leicester since joining in 2010. "I'm playing at six, which is probably not my first position, but I'm really pleased to be playing 80 minutes every week.
"I've got four 80-minute games in a row under my belt and feel like I'm managing to pick up a bit of form and rhythm. That's what I need after a difficult pre-season with injury and surgery
"In terms of my international prospects, it might help if I'm concentrating on one position, but I'm quite happy to play at lock or in the back row. Definitely for Leicester, wherever Cockers (Richard Cockerill) can put me in the side, I'm pleased to play. I wouldn't necessarily say I'm focused on sticking to one position. With Steve Mafi and Tom Croft out injured, that's where Leicester need me to play, and that's where I'll try to do my best."
As well as targeting European and domestic honours with Leicester, Slater also has a personal goal for this season: breaking into the England set-up. Missing out on the Argentina tour has only increased his desire to represent his country, and he knows a good run in the Heineken Cup will help him catch Stuart Lancaster's eye.
"I'd be lying if I said that my long-term sights weren't set on England," he said. "I know first and foremost that the thing that got me called up to the Argentina tour was my performances for Leicester. If I can continue to play well, maybe my name will be thrown about.
"The squad is looking exciting as we build up to the World Cup, and there are a lot of players putting their hands up. I want to be part of that as well. I'd love to be involved."
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