Ulster tipped for very top
Published 11/10/2013 | 08:30
London Irish fly-half Ian Humphreys is backing his former Ulster team mates to top their Heineken Cup group this season.
Humphreys thinks Ulster can secure a home quarter-final at Ravenhill and progress on to the last four of the tournament.
"It's a tough enough group, but I think they are definitely good enough to top it," he said.
"If they get a home quarter-final at Ravenhill, it's as well as done and dusted. In the big games, it's tough to win at Ravenhill now. I think that's going to be the aim for them, the home quarter-final, and then anything can happen."
Ulster's group includes Humphreys' former team Leicester Tigers, as well as Montpellier and Benetton Treviso. And the fly-half thinks Leicester and Ulster will be the two sides battling it out for top spot, starting with their clash at Ravenhill tonight.
"Ulster have played enough big games now against the big English teams that there's not a fear factor any more.
"If they start the game well and are physical, they're a match for anybody. You know Leicester are going to be strong. The last two times they've had a trip to Belfast, it's been pretty tough for them, so no doubt they'll be wanting to go back and sort that out," he said.
New recruits at Montpellier should add a bit of steel to the French side, while Treviso have also improved from previous years, according to Humphreys.
"You just don't know how the French teams will travel, what interest they will have in the Heineken," he said.
"Treviso are a team that are improving every year. They can't be underestimated obviously. They have a very physical pack and certainly aren't the guaranteed 10 pointers that they used to be," he added.
Meanwhile, the Tigers will look to 'get the monkey off their back' tonight, according to their Director of Rugby Richard Cockerill.
Leicester suffered a 41-7 defeat in Belfast during the 2011/12 Heineken Cup, a result they will be keen to avenge.
"We've got to at some point get the monkey off our back and we've got to put in a decent shift there," said Cockerill.
Cockerill admits that Ulster "smashed" his side in that Heineken Cup defeat almost two years ago, but insists he won't be looking at it as unfinished business when the two sides meet in this season's competition tonight at Ravenhill.
"We're a pretty honest group of people," he said.
"Last time we played them in Europe, they were much better and they beat us easily – we know they're a good team.
"We know that if we get it right, we can beat them, but if we get it wrong, they're more than good enough to beat us."
Ulster were beaten 30-10 by Tigers in a friendly at Welford Road on August 31.
The fixture gave both sides the opportunity to size up the opposition, but Cockerill played down that game's bearing on the Heineken Cup tie.
"I don't think it matters much. We'll have played a lot of rugby by the time we play each other so we'll all be watching each other by the time we get to Europe."
He added: "They'll know what we do and we'll know what they do and I think it's just then executing it and how you get on on the day."