Ulster forwards to lead way

Des Berry

ULSTER v CLERMONT AUVERGNE, Ravenhill, Saturday, KO 3.40

Coach Brian McLaughlin has already lost his match-winner and playmaker Ruan Pienaar, and the possible loss of captain Johann Muller and Stephen Ferris would be too great a burden to carry over the winning line.

The financial investment in South African forward power and All Black prop John Afoa can only reap dividends if they remain on the pitch.

The Northern Province has been ordinary in the PRO12 League, failing to take advantage of the greater depletion of other clubs in the first half-dozen matches of the season.

A bitingly cold Ravenhill would be a deterrent to Clermont and a boost to McLaughlin in what is already a win-or-bust match. Ulster are simply not built to recover from an opening day home defeat.

The club from the Massif Central has not quite been able to push on from the glorious 2010 French Championship final triumph. They stuttered in an almighty pool in Europe last year.

Verdict: Ulster