Springboks influence can help Ulster shock Saints
Jonathan Bell reckons Ulster can prevail against the odds in Milton Keynes this weekend as they gear up for their first Heineken Cup quarter-final in 12 years.
The former Ireland centre, who was part of Ulster's 1999 title-winning team, spent three seasons at Saturday's opponents Northampton and is well aware that the current side are inexperienced at this level of the competition.
But although he rates the Saints highly, Bell says Brian McLaughlin's charges have an outside chance of upsetting the odds.
"It is going to be a massive task for us to go there and win," said the 37-year-old, now an elite player development officer with Ulster. "We know we will travel as massive underdogs. Reaching the quarter-finals has been a big, big step for us, but we can't just settle for that.
"We know that any of the other teams in the last eight would have been happy to have drawn us, so we have got to get a good performance out of our side. If we play very, very well I'm confident that we stand a good chance of beating them."
The Saints have moved the match from their imposing Franklin's Gardens home to stadium:mk and Bell sees that as an advantage.
And while he is aware of the threat posed by England backs Ben Foden and Chris Ashton, he believes Ulster will travel filled with belief after a good recent run in the Magners League.
"If we were having to go to France and win it might be different," he said.
"But stadium:mk is a pretty neutral venue and everything is there for us to play for.
"We now have players in key positions who are bringing out the best in others around them.
"Ulster has been a team in transition in recent years, a side that has been trying to learn how to win, but the Springboks (we have signed) have brought a winning culture with them and we will go to Milton Keynes having won six in a row in the Magners League."