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Preview: Ulster v Montpellier

09th January 2014 10:25

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Ulster Paddy Jackson C passes v Montpellier

Pivot: Paddy Jackson

Tries will be precious for Ulster when they host a second-string Montpellier outfit at Ravenhill on Friday in the Heineken Cup.

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 of late.

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 Galthié's team when they travelled to Welford Road.

Montpellier may not qualify from Pool 5 and arrive in Belfast without some of their key players, but they have been incredibly entertaining. 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. If the desire is there, then they will make Ulster work hard.

Francois Trinh-Duc won't 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.

Best and Johann Muller have recovered from injury and have been named in the Ulster starting XV.

Best suffered a broken arm playing for Ireland in the narrow defeat to the All Blacks seven weeks ago. He has returned to play ahead of schedule and is selected in the front row alongside Afoa and Court.

"I knew that it was going to be a tight ask to get back for these games, but it is testament to the medical team that we have here, Michael Eames the surgeon and the strength and conditioning coaches at Ulster that I am back," said Best.

"I have been fortunate that there have been no set-backs along the way and it has just been a case of trying to push on and thankfully I have come through."

For Montpellier, Eric Escande will form the half-back pairing with Selponi with Thomas Combezou and Anthony Tuitavake combining in midfield. Beattie and Alexandre Bias come into the back-row.

Charles Geli will captain the visitors at hooker.

Form: Ulster currently hold the only 100% record in the tournament. Montpellier have lost their last six away games in the Top 14 and haven't developed into the force everyone had predicted after they reached the quarter-finals last season

The teams:

Ulster: 15 Jared Payne, 14 Andrew Trimble, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Luke Marshall, 11 Craig Gilroy, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Chris Henry, 6 Robbie Diack, 5 Dan Tuohy, 4 Johann Muller (c), 3 John Afoa, 2 Rory Best, 1 Tom Court.
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Callum Black, 18 Declan Fitzpatrick, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Roger Wilson, 21 Sean Doyle, 22 Paul Marshall, 23 Michael Allen.

Montpellier: 15 Anthony Floch, 14 Yohann Artru, 13 Anthony Tuitavake, 12 Thomas Combezou, 11 Lucas Dupont, 10 Enzo Selponi, 9 Eric Escande, 8 Johnnie Beattie, 7 Alexandre Bias, 6 Kellen Galletier, 5 Robins Tchale Watchou, 4 Mickael Demarco, 3 Maximilliano Bustos, 2 Charles Geli (c), 1 Na'ama Leleimalefaga.
Replacements: 16 Thomas Bianchin, 17 Mikheil Nariashvili, 18 Paea Fa'anunu, 19 Mickael Ivaldi, 20 Fred Quercy, 21 Benoit Paillaugue, 22 Pierre Berard, 23 Timoci Nagusa.

Date: Friday 10th January
Venue: Ravenhill
Kick-off: 20:00 (local and GMT)
Referee: Wayne Barnes (Eng)
Assistant referees: Tim Wigglesworth, Stuart Terheege (both Eng)
TMO: Sean Davey (Eng)

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