Heineken Cup Pool 5: Ulster v Montpellier match preview
Last Updated: 10/01/14 6:34pm
Ulster will be out to maintain the only perfect record in this season's Heineken Cup against Montpellier at Ravenhill on Friday.
Winners last weekend against Munster in the Pro12, Ulster have won six of their last seven matches in all competitions and arrive at this crucial home fixture in good form.
With a trip to Leicester to come in Round Six of this year's group stage, defeating Montpellier and targeting a try bonus point is a must for Mark Anscombe's side.
Ulster's key men - Jared Payne, Ruan Pienaar and Chris Henry - are all in good form and the home side will be boosted by the return of influential duo Rory Best and Johann Muller.
Payne especially was a vivacious attacking force against Munster, taking one of the tries after a Paddy Jackson chip and underlining his talent with the ball in hand. Expected to be capped by Ireland once he qualifies next season, he has been outstanding recently.
Good foundations in Ulster's pack have also proved essential though. Tom Court and John Afoa are moving on but seek silverware, with Henry and Nick Williams providing the graft. The returns of Iain Henderson and Williams in recent weeks have been a boost. Add in the Ravenhill factor and Montpellier face a stiff challenge.
Not that travelling to imposing grounds affected Fabien Galthie's team when they made the trip to Welford Road.
Montpellier may not qualify from Pool 5 and arrive in Belfast without some of their key players, but they have proved an entertaining team.
Their ability to attack from anywhere with backs such as Timoci Nagusa (returning to Ravenhill) and Anthony Floch make them a banana skin, albeit a significantly smaller one than if they have brought their strongest side.
They hardly possess a poor set of forwards, even with the star names such as Mamuka Gorgodze rested. Montpellier's is a pack of big men - Johnnie Beattie, Robins Tchale Watchou and Maximiliano Bustos to name a few.
Francois Trinh-Duc will not get a chance to respond to missing out on the French squad for the Six Nations but young Enzo Selponi does get an opportunity to shine at ten.
Considering that so many leading Montpellier players have been left at home though, this has the markings of a comfortable Ulster win.
Ulster: 15 Payne, 14 Trimble, 13 Cave, 12 Marshall, 11 Gilroy, 10 Jackson, 9 Pienaar, 1 Court, 2 Best, 3 Afoa, 4, Muller (c), 5 Tuohy, 6 Diack, 7 Henry, 8 Williams.
Replacements: 16 Herring, 17 Black, 18 Fitzpatrick, 19 Henderson, 20 Wilson, 21 Doyle, 22 Marshall, 23 Allen.
Montpellier: 15 Floch, 14 Artru, 13 Tuitavake, 12 Combezou, 11 Dupont, 10 Selponi, 9 Escande, 1 Leleimalefaga, 2 Geli (c), 3 Bustos, 4 Demarco, 5 Watchou, 6 Galletier, 7 Bias, 8 Beattie.
Replacements: 16 Bianchin, 17 Nariashvili, 18 Fa'anunu, 19 Ivaldi, 20 Quercy, 21 Paillaugue, 22 Berard, 23 Nagusa.
Watch Ulster take on Montpellier live on Sky Sports 2HD at 8pm this evening.
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