Fans could be X factor for us at Ravenhill, says Clarke
Allen Clarke, the hooker in the Ulster side which beat Toulouse — twice — Stade de France and Colomiers en route to the European Cup in 1999 knows a thing or two about what to expect from French opponents.
He also has a fair idea of where and how they can be beaten.
His advice to Ulster today?
To accuracy, and concentration add belief and passion, whip up the crowd and let them, too, play their part in the overthrow of Biarrtiz.
“If Ulster produce a big performance — and they’re very capable of that — and get into full flow with the crowd behind them they can win this,” said the IRFU’s current High Performance Manager and former assistant to Mark McCall when he was Ulster coach.
“I’m going to Ravenhill with my father and my son and I know the passion will be second to none. That gets into the players so it will fuel the Ulster boys,” he said.
“At home to French opponents you have to get the crowd involved and you do that by giving them something to shout about.”
Ulster’s best chance of doing that will be as a result of those on the terraces and in the stands seeing the team working for one another, showing real togetherness and aggression.
“It’s going to require a team effort with everybody involved. The quality of the possession is going to be key.
“The basics have to be right. Secure the ball and get across the gain line. As and when they have it, you have to be solid in defence,” he said.
“This is going to be a great contest and a real battle — one of those matches where whoever has that extra one per cent will do it because there really is so little to choose between them.
“These are two really good sides and with them being so well matched and the conditions being good it should be a great spectacle.”
Clarke’s chief concern is Biarritz’s unpredictability.
“There’s always that element of the unknown with them.
“They can play very poorly one day and the next they’re a totally different side. They seem to be able to pull out a performance at times when it'a not expected and that's a danger.
“So if I was in the Ulster dressing room I’d be telling the players that they need to be very accurate and very disciplined.
“You know that Biarritz are going to try to have a go at you early on, be it at scrum time, line-out time or restart time.
“They’re going to try to rattle you and it’s very important that you don’t let them do that.
“Instead you have to get into their heads and try to create doubt in their mind set.”
He sees Dimitri Yachvili as being the principal dangerman.
Clarke said: “He’s a great player, almost like a ninth forward. He’s a big occasion player, too, so this will be his sort of situation.
“So much of what they do comes from eight, nine, 10 so Ulster have to get in and break that axis and communication channel.
“If they do that, they will be in a position to win this match,”
Gary Leslie, who propped Clarke at club — Dungannon — and provincial level and like him is a hero of the 1999 triumph, wants to see Ulster lay down an early marker.
“You can’t give French teams the chance to settle in the first five or 10 minutes.
“You have to be in there, in their faces, disrupting them.
“Our scrum is good so we have to make that count.”