Thursday 5 December 2019

Payne central role in Ulster's points race

Jared Payne (SPORTSFILE)
Jared Payne (SPORTSFILE)
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Jared Payne looks set to be restored to the centre for Ulster's final Champions Cup game against Oyonnax on Saturday as Ireland's last remaining hope of a quarter-final spot go in search of the points they need.

The sight of the New Zealander in the No 13 jersey will be a fillip for Joe Schmidt who will also hope to see Robbie Henshaw return for Connacht this weekend.

For all that it is a boost to the national team, Les Kiss's focus is purely on doing enough to squeeze into the last eight.

After failing to get the bonus point in France and losing heavily to Saracens last weekend, Ulster need favours from elsewhere but will only be in a position to take advantage if they score four tries and beat the Top 14 strugglers.

With 13 points from five games, Ulster are the lowest-ranked of the five second-placed teams going into the final round of games. The top three qualify for the quarter-finals, with Wasps on 15 points and Northampton Saints, Clermont Auvergne and Stade Francais all on 14.

Wasps are at home to Leinster in their final game, Northampton are away to Scarlets, Clermont host Bordeaux and Stade take on pool winners Leicester in Paris. In Clermont's pool, pool leaders Ospreys are on 16 points and if they lose to Exeter Chiefs away can be caught by Ulster.

Ulster should be able to welcome Nick Williams back into their side, but have doubts over Louis Ludik (foot) and Chris Henry (shoulder). Stuart Olding has returned to training, while Darren Cave is likely to partner Payne in a changed midfield.

The northern province get the weekend up and running and have the chance to set a target.

"With us being up first it means other teams knowing what they have to aim for," head coach Neil Doak said.

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