Of all the fixtures going on in Round 2 of the Heineken Cup this weekend, this one caught our eye.
Crisis averted? Not just yet for the Tigers, but a win over Aironi in Italy last week provided them with the perfect start to European competition, putting their domestic blues to one side. Leicester are struggling without first choice centres Anthony Allen and Manu Tuilagi, with the relatively unknown Andy Forsyth set to partner Matt Smith in midfield, but their pack is back to full strength following the return of their World Cup stars. Out in the backs, Alesana Tuilagi still provides the spark.
A big win over Clermont will have surprised many in Europe given the French side’s impressive squad. But Ravenhill is one of the hardest places to get a result. Now, if Ulster can pick up a result away at Welford Road, they will take an impressive lead in Pool 4 and be favourites to progress. Losing Paddy Wallace is a blow, but brings in the exciting combination of Nevin Spence and Darren Cave, two players who we both touted to potentially fill the 13 shirt for Ireland in the Six Nations. The impressive Adam D’Arcy, whose break set up the winning score against Clermont last week, remains on the bench.
What To Expect:
Leicester to keep it tight and powerful as always. Toby Flood will be key to getting his back row on the right lines, which should create the space for Tuilagi and the returning Horacio Agulla. Ulster will focus on the breakdown with Stephen Ferris and Pedrie Wannenburg set to hold up any quick ball Leicester try to produce. This one could well be decided upfront.
Head to Head: Dan Cole v Tom Court
Cole has returned to the Tigers to find himself ahead of Martin Castrogiovanni for selection, something that was far from common last season. In the game against London Irish, Cole was part of a scrum that dominated the whole match, but in the end came up short as Irish snuck back into the game. There were no problems last week against Aironi, but Tom Court should be hungry to give Cole some trouble. The young Irish prop is highly rated in Belfast, and is developing rapidly following performances off the bench at the Rugby World Cup. Supremacy in this area could provide the winning platform for either side.
All Eyes On: Alesana Tuilagi & Ian Humphreys
Always a star of the Premiership, Tuilagi has gone on to become a blockbuster a name in world rugby following his performances for Samoa during the Rugby World Cup. Two tries in three games since he returned from New Zealand mean that he is in form, and in addition is Leicester’s best weapon in attack.
Meanwhile, Ulster fly-half Humphreys returns to his former club after leaving in 2008, and a much improved player at that. The impressive beard may now be gone, but Humphreys good form in last season’s Heineken Cup won plenty of praise from all corners. No one will be hungrier to get a good result against the Tigers.
Last Fixture: Leicester 49-7 Ulster, Welford Road, 17/1/04
Weather: Cloudy, no rain. 11 degrees.
Kick-Off: 18:00 (on Sky)
Ulster’s impressive win over Clermont last week makes this one a tough to call. Leicester are yet to win at home this season, but something has to give. How accurate the boots of Toby Flood and Humphreys are on the day could well decide it. Leicester by 5.
by Ben Coles