Opportunity is knocking for a flying Ulster start
Published 21/07/2010 | 11:43
ULSTER have been given a golden opportunity to get their 2010/11 Heineken Cup campaign off to a winning start.
Newly-formed Italian side Aironi will provide Brian McLaughlin's side's first Pool stage opposition on Friday, October 8 at Ravenhill where Ulster will be firm favourites to launch their European venture with a victory.
The following weekend Ulster travel to the beautiful city of San Sebastian where they will face last season's runners-up Biarritz Olympique Pays Basque on Sunday, October 17.
As well as the disappointment of losing to Toulouse in last May's all-French Heineken Cup showpiece at Stade de France, Biarritz -- 5th ranked in Europe -- were beaten by Munster in the 2006 final at the Millennium Stadium.
They boast real quality and will provide formidable opposition.
In players like scrum-half Dimitri Yachvili, centre Damien Traille, inspirational No 8 Imanol Harinordoquy, prop Fabien Barcella and flanker Wenceslas Lauret they have a quintet of French stars who will test Ulster to the utmost, particularly at their own 15,000 capacity Parcs des Sports Aguiléra.
Biarritz also can point to three wins from four previous Pool clashes with Ulster. That said, the mid-January trip to Ravenhill is not one the French will relish.
Ulster met Bath for the first time in last season's Pool stage and did the double over them.
The rivals -- who also play one another in a pre-season friendly at Ravenhill on Friday, August 13 -- meet in back-to-back pre-Christmas fixtures. The Aviva Premiership club come to Ravenhill on December 11 with Ulster visiting The Rec on December 18.
Round 5 will see Ulster entertain Biarritz on the weekend of January 14-16 before rounding off the pool stages with a trip to Aironi over January 21-23.
Three of Ulster's games -- both ties against Bath and the away trip to Biarritz -- will be shown live on Sky Sports.
Ulster's Operations Director David Humphreys said: "The announcement of the fixtures today really brings it home that we're just weeks away from the start of the season.
"The players are in week five of pre-season training, which has gone really well, and today's draw heightens the sense of anticipation of competing in Europe's premier tournament once again."
Source: Belfast Telegraph