Preview: Toulon v Ulster

Date published: January 16 2015

Toulon will expect to secure top spot in Pool 3 as they welcome Ulster to Stade Felix Mayol on Saturday.

The star-studded French outfit have won all 13 home fixtures in the competition and, with a five point lead over second-placed Scarlets, the defending champions remain firm favourites to finish top of the group.

Ulster head coach Neil Doak insists his side have nothing to fear when they face RCT. With their hopes of European qualification over, Doak has urged his players to enjoy their visit to the Champions Cup holders on Saturday.

“It is a little bit strange with no realistic chance of qualifying but European games are always exciting. We have nothing to lose and the pressure is on Toulon,” he said.

“We have to make sure that we use the ball and if we get in for a few scores – who knows? We know that it’s not going to be easy this weekend but we have nothing to lose. It’s an exciting place to go to.

“Toulon are the Champions of Europe and the boys are looking forward to it. Europe is gone for us and we want to work on the things that we have been trying in training.

“We will go and try and stretch them and we are just aiming to focus on ourselves and use the ball wisely.”

Darren Cave will play his 150th game for Ulster. The side sees seven changes and two positional switches to the side that beat Treviso in Italy last Sunday.

Ireland international Jared Payne starts at full-back for the first time this season while Louis Ludik moves to the right wing in place of Tommy Bowe.

Cave is selected at outside centre for his 150th game for his province and is partnered in midfield by fellow international Stuart Olding.

Michael Allen comes into the side on the left wing with Paddy Jackson and Springbok scrum-half, Ruan Pienaar, named in the halfbacks.

There is a completely new front row with Andrew Warwick picked at loosehead, Rob Herring selected at hooker and Bronson Ross, who starts his first game for Ulster, named at tighthead in place of the injured Wiehahn Herbst.

Alan O’Connor continues in the second row where he is joined by Franco van der Merwe who returns to the side having been ill last week.

In the back row, Clive Ross moves to openside, Mike McComish is selected at blindside and captain Roger Wilson starts the game at number eight.

Forwards John Andrew, Callum Black, Declan Fitzpatrick, Lewis Stevenson and Robbie Diack join backs Paul Marshall, Ian Humphreys and Michael Heaney on the replacements bench.

Toulon are without former Wallaby playmaker Matt Giteau but have still named an all-international starting XV with Pumas fly-half Nicolas Sanchez leading the attack.

Form: Toulon have never lost a home game in this competition, winning all 13 matches played at Mayol. Ulster meanwhile, have returned victorious on their last two trips to France, having previously failed to win in France on 14 attempts. Toulon also won the fixture between these two sides in Belfast 23-13 in round two. The French side have won their last four encounters with Irish teams by an average margin of 12 points.

The teams:

Toulon: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Drew Mitchell, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Sebastien Tillous-Borde, 8 Chris Masoe (c) 7 Steffon Armitage, 6 Juan Smith, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Jocelino Suta, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Guilhem Guirado, 1 Xavier Chiocci.
Replacements: 16 Jean-Charles Orioli, 17 Florian Fresia, 18 Carl Hayman, 19 Mamuka Gorgodze, 20 Rudi Wulf, 21 David Smith, 22 Eric Escande, 23 Romain Taofifenua

Ulster: 15 Jared Payne, 14 Louis Ludik, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Stuart Olding, 11 Michael Allen, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Roger Wilson (c) 7 Mike McComish, 6 Clive Ross, 5 Franco Van Der Merwe, 4 Alan O’Connor, 3 Bronson Ross, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Andy Warwick.
Replacements: 16 John Andrew, 17 Callum Black, 18 Declan Fitzpatrick, 19 Lewis Stevenson, 20 Robbie Diack, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Ian Humphreys, 23 Michael Heaney

Date: Saturday, 17 January
Venue: Stade F