Henderson and Stockdale set to return to Champions Cup duty for Ulster

Province expecting to be close to full strength for the key clash with Harlequins

Iain Henderson: Ireland lock  will return to the starting Ulster side for the visit of Harlequins to the Kingspan  Stadium in Belfast. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Iain Henderson: Ireland lock will return to the starting Ulster side for the visit of Harlequins to the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

 

Ulster are likely to be as close to full strength as they can currently be for Saturday’s Heineken Champions Cup clash with Harlequins at the Kingspan, the first of their meetings in the back-to-back rounds.

The unbeaten Pool Three leaders will have skipper Iain Henderson and Jacob Stockdale restored to their starting line-up after they were rested for last weekend’s 29-5 PRO14 victory over the Scarlets while centre Luke Marshall is also poised to come back in after he, too, was stood down for the match with the Welsh region.

Their main concern is over outhalf Billy Burns, who played an important role in the northern province’s round two home win over Clermont Auvergne two weeks ago, and the mood is reasonably optimistic that he will have recovered from the hamstring issue which ruled him out of any participation in the outing against the Scarlets.

Prop Marty Moore and utility back Louis Ludik, who both left the field with knocks last weekend, are also thought to be fully fit and both will be needed.

Moore will be facing Joe Marler at scrum-time while Ludik is the preferred choice at fullback while Will Addison serves out his ban for a dangerous tackle in the previous European round’s victory over Clermont.

Having gone two from two, Ulster will be expected to maintain their lead in Pool Three and rack-up a eighth straight home European win at the Kingspan Stadium.

The way they raced clear to a 24-0 lead over the Scarlets in the first half hour of last Friday’s PRO14 encounter showed a ruthlessness and accuracy which had not been previously seen from Ulster in this campaign.

However, their failure to score any further points until the dying minutes was an issue for the coaching team ahead of taking on what is expected to be a much more robust challenge from Harlequins. They are third in the pool after their defeat of Bath in the last round which came in the wake of the London club’s opening 53-21 horror show reverse at Clermont.

Unique period

Ulster do, at least, have momentum coming into Saturday having won their last three games in all competitions, a situation skills coach Dan Soper said is key for the squad’s belief.

“It’s very important when you start getting on a bit of a roll like that as that word momentum is one you like to lean on,” he said. “This is the unique period of the season when you play a team back-to-back, so we know how important it is to get a good start this week.”

While pointing out that Harlequins, who narrowly beat Gloucester on Sunday to register only their second win in the Premiership, will pose a considerable threat, Soper compared their situation to where Ulster found themselves in the previous season.

“In some ways Harlequins are in no different position than we were this time last year. Round three for us last year was away to Scarlets and that was when we started to take off [Ulster won 25-24 and won their next three pool games to qualify as a best runner-up].

“Harlequins are still in the mix, so we need to back it up with another really good performance at home to really keep that momentum going. It’s just important we turn up and perform,” Soper added.

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