McLaughlin’s Ulster ready for special performance in Biarritz
ULSTER coach Brian McLaughlin believes his side are "ready to do something special" ahead of the province’s Heineken Cup trip to Biarritz on Sunday.
Ulster have not won in 12 attempts on French soil, but the inclusion of Stephen Ferris and BJ Botha in the squad means that McLaughlin has all of his heavy hitters available for the first time.
Botha and Ferris have been out since the Magners League win over Glasgow at the start of the month, while Pedrie Wannenburg and Johann Muller have settled in well since their move to Belfast.
Botha will replace Bryan Young in the front-row, but Ferris’ return from a rib injury gives McLaughlin a selection headache with Wannenburg the man in possession of the blindside jersey – though he could switch to No 8.
“The players themselves feel they are ready to do something special in France. The best result was a draw against Toulouse many moons ago,” said McLaughlin. “But we have to weigh that up against the fact that Biarritz were in the final last season and have a big home crowd behind them.”
Full-back Jamie Smith and centre Darren Cave are major doubts for the game after picking up knocks against Aironi last week. Ian Whitten would be most likely to replace Cave, while McLaughlin might gamble on the talented, but untried David McIlwaine at fullback should Smith miss out.
Ulster may well translate their impressive home form to the road, but Biarritz are in the driving seat in the group after last week’s away win over Bath and will not be easily bested.
“We see it as a great opportunity. We want to travel and prove that we are capable of winning, just the way we did at Bath last year,” said McLaughlin. “We will go to France and show them how much we have improved and show people exactly where we are and test ourselves against the best.
“The players themselves are fully focused. It is going to be very tough and very physical, but the players are ready for that type of game” said McLaughlin.
Elsewhere, Connacht have recalled some of their big names for Friday’s Challenge Cup showdown with Bayonne. Despite their stated emphasis on the Magners League this season, Eric Elwood has recalled internationals Sean Cronin and Gavin Duffy, as well as the inform Jamie Hagan, to the squad. Ray Ofisa and Keith Matthews are also back in contention, while Darragh Fanning and Cillian Wilis, who made their first competitive starts for Connacht last week, are retained in the squad.