Planet Rugby

Preview: Leicester Tigers v Ulster

17th January 2014 09:37

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Big one: Tigers v Ulster

The pick of the games from Round 6 of the Heineken Cup comes from Welford Road where Leicester and Ulster battle it out for top spot in Pool 5.

After 400 minutes apiece, it all comes down to these 80 in the East Midlands as two teams assured of knockout rugby look for a home tie.

Although victorious, both were hardly convincing in respective Round Five games but maybe that's doing a disservice to their opponents. Ulster, facing Montpellier, could not cross for that fourth try while Leicester recovered to beat Benetton Treviso, setting up a winner-take-all match.

Ulster are two points clear of the Tigers at the top of Pool 5 but do sit atop of the current European points standings so an away triumph would guarantee them a home run-in at a fully finished Ravenhill venue. This begs the question why they're 18/1 outsiders for the Heineken Cup title.

It's certainly possible they can get the job done at Welford Road, a venue that Harlequins have prevailed at while Bath and Saints claimed draws so far this season. Ulster have a habit of going well on the road too, with Northampton finding that out last season and Montpellier this.

They have the spine of a title winning XV and in John Afoa Ulster have a prop who's well worth what Gloucester are forking out for his services. Dan Tuohy meanwhile is worthy of a regular start in the Ireland jersey but one waits to see which direction Joe Schmidt goes.

If Ulster can get the axis of Nick Williams, Ruan Pienaar and Paddy Jackson functioning then they could put pressure on Leicester, who have Anthony Allen back in the midfield.

In teams new, Ulster hooker Rory Best will make his 150th appearance for the province and will line up alongside Afoa and Callum Black, who makes his first start in the Heineken Cup.

The inclusion of Black is one of two changes to the team that defeated Montpellier at Ravenhill last week. The other sees Roger Wilson selected at blindside with Robbie Diack moving to the bench. Williams starts at number eight, with Chris Henry picked at openside.

Craig Gilroy has recovered from the injury that he sustained against Montpellier and starts on the left wing with Andrew Trimble named on the right and Jared Payne continuing at 15.

Meanwhile, inside centre Allen and hooker Tom Youngs are recalled to the Leicester starting line-up, with Tigers vice-captain Allen joined by Matt Smith in the midfield.

Vereniki Goneva moves out to the left wing in place of Miles Benjamin who has a knee injury while club captain Toby Flood reverts to the fly-half role instead of Owen Williams.

Youngs returns to the front-row after missing the bonus-point win in Treviso last week, while Graham Kitchener and Ed Slater form a second-row partnership after also missing the trip to Italy. Jordan Crane returns to the number eight shirt ahead of Thomas Waldrom.

Allen will be making his first appearance at Welford Road since October after coming back from injury with a role from the replacements bench in the bonus-point win at Treviso.

The teams:

Leicester Tigers: 15 Mathew Tait, 14 Niall Morris, 13 Matt Smith, 12 Anthony Allen, 11 Vereniki Goneva, 10 Toby Flood (c), 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Jordan Crane, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Jamie Gibson, 5 Graham Kitchener, 4 Ed Slater, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Tom Youngs, 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Replacements: 16 Rob Hawkins, 17 Boris Stankovich, 18 Fraser Balmain, 19 Louis Deacon, 20 Steve Mafi, 21 David Mélé, 22 Owen Williams, 23 Scott Hamilton.

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 Roger Wilson, 5 Dan Tuohy, 4 Johann Muller (capt), 3 John Afoa, 2 Rory Best, 1 Callum Black.
Replacements: 16 Rob Herring, 17 Tom Court, 18 Ricky Lutton, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Robbie Diack, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 David McIlwaine, 23 Michael Allen.

Date: Saturday, January 18
Kick-off: 18:00 GMT
Venue: Welford Road
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Sean Brickell (Wales), Jonathan Mason (Wales)
Television match official: Tim Hayes (Wales)

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4Harlequins00
5Leicester Tigers00