Determined Ulster to start campaign on a winning note
Similarly, along with another ever-present in lock-cum-number eight Joe Tekori, the Top 14’s leading points scorer, Rory Kockott, has been left on the bench for the first time this season, as Thierry Lacrompe makes his first start in place of the South African at scrumhalf. Admittedly, Kockott’s radar was awry last week when the metronomic Romain “Robocop” Teulet, with his idiosyncratic kicking style, steered them to victory last Friday over Clermont, who haven’t won in Stade Pierre Antoine for 36 years.
But the club’s all-time leading Heineken Cup points scorer is 34 now, is making only his second start of the season and in his only previous start Teulet looked decidedly dodgy under the high ball for Montpellier’s match-winning try a fortnight ago. He comes in at full-back for the exciting 22-year-old Brice Dulin, who made his French debut in Argentina last summer.
Of course, they are French, witness how Travers (a Heineken Cup-winning hooker with Brive in 1997) and Labit were in charge of Montauban when fielding a second string team and deemed supposed no-hopers on their debut at Thomond Park in 2008. The then holders needed a last-ditch penalty by some bloke called O’Gara to win 19-17. If given an early whiff, Castres could become very interested.
But given Ulster will be roared on by a near capacity crowd, and ought to be ferociously focused, with a bullish scrum, strong lineout, Ferris leading the charge and as potent an outside three as one can remember Ulster assembling, it really, really shouldn’t come to that.
ULSTER: J Payne; T Bowe, D Cave, P Wallace, A Trimble; P Jackson, P Marshall; T Court, R Best, J Afoa, J Muller (capt), D Tuohy, I Henderson, C Henry, S Ferris. Replacements: R Herring, C Black, A Macklin, L Stevenson, M McComish, R Pienaar, L Marshall, C Gilroy.
CASTRES: R Teulet; M Garvey, S Bai, D Kirkpatrick, M Andreu; P Bernard, T Lacrampe; Y Forestier , M Bonello, M Coetzee, M Rolland (capt), R Capo Ortega, P Faasalele, Y Caballero, P Wannenburg. Replacements: M-A Rallier, G Marmoiton, M Lazar, I Tekori, A Claassen, R Kockott, P Bonnefond, T Sanchou.
Referee: Andrew Small (England).
Forecast: Ulster to win handsomely.