Ulster can learn from imports -- McLaughlin
ULSTER coach Brian McLaughlin does not need to be reminded of Clermont Auvergne's quality or the rich diversity of their players' backgrounds.
Of their Heineken Cup squad, 28 have played international rugby for 11 different countries: 15 Frenchmen, two All Blacks, two Samoans and two Scots, a Springbok, a Welshman, an Italian, a Fijian, a Canadian, a Georgian and a Portuguese.
But they don't have a monopoly on cosmopolitanism -- Ulster's squad includes Kiwis, Australians, South Africans and a Scot.
And McLaughlin has been picking the brains of his World Cup stars, to see if any international teams do things that Ulster could learn from.
"There are different ways of doing things -- different tackle techniques, defence techniques, defensive systems, attacking principles, for example -- so we've got to try and use all the experience our international players are able to bring in order to become a better team. It's a great opportunity for us to learn.
"They know what they have to do and where they have to be. The next few weeks are crucial for our season."
In view of the quality of the opposition they face on Saturday afternoon (3.40), Ulster are delighted to be starting yet another Heineken Cup campaign on home soil.
Remarkably, this will be the eighth year on the trot that they have kicked off their Euro adventure at Ravenhill and certainly they can take heart from their record of having won five of those seven round-one matches since 2004.
After watching his charges lose four Pro12 fixtures in succession, McLaughlin was relieved to see them bring that depressing sequence to an end on Saturday night at Ravenhill, where they beat Connacht 22-3.
Nevertheless, the coach knows that if they are to have a chance against on-song Clermont they are going to have to crank things up several notches.
The visitors are second in the Top 14, a point behind Toulouse, with eight wins from 10 matches.
But while McLaughlin has the utmost respect for Clermont, he does not fear them.
"This is where we all want to be," he said, "testing ourselves against the best sides in the biggest club competition in the world."