Ulster won't be lost in France
After bruising battle with Tigers it just gets tougher as Ravenhill men gear up for home-loving Montpellier
Ulster 22-16 winners against Leicester Tigers on Friday night at Ravenhill, Montpellier victors by a 27-10 margin over Benetton Treviso on Saturday afternoon at Stadio Comunale di Monigo.
Next up? Montpellier – Heineken Cup Pool 5's early pace-setters – versus second-placed Ulster at 14,700-capacity Stade Yves du Manoir on Saturday. Tasty.
But it's as tough as they come, too; to date this season the Fabien Galthie-coached hosts have been beating guests with impressive regularity in the Top 14. Brive (33-24), Toulouse (25-0), ASM Auvergne Clermont (43-3) and Oyonnax (45-20) alike have been sent home with their tails between their legs, while Toulon – the Heineken Cup holders – were happy to exit with a share of the spoils after drawing 22-22.
Ulster's victory over Leicester Tigers, the defending Aviva Premiership champions, was thoroughly deserved. Indeed, the six-point differential – enough to have given Leicester a bonus which may yet prove significant – flatters the English who were on the receiving end for almost all of the second half.
The offside decision against Paddy Jackson (pictured) right at the start of the second 40 minutes when the Ulster outside-half pounced to intercept a pass following a Leicester scrum in his own 22 and then ran the length of the pitch to score was debatable.
And had French referee Romain Poite given Ulster rather than Leicester the benefit of the doubt, that try and its conversion would have seen the hosts lead 20-10.
Instead, Toby Flood goaled the penalty harshly awarded against Jackson for offside, thereby tying the scores at 13-13.
That was followed a short time later by a disallowed Darren Cave touchdown, though on this occasion there can be no disputing Monsieur Poite's decision – ratified by television monitoring official Bernard Dal Maso – that there had been a forward pass in the build-up.
Home back-row forward Roger Wilson, named the Sky Sports man of the match, admitted that it will take an even greater Ulster effort if they are to beat Montpellier in the far south of France this weekend.
"They're flying high at the minute," Wilson said.
"If we thought this week was physical, next week is probably going to be a step up again. They've torn apart some of the top French teams in the last few weeks.
And warning that things may end up going right to the wire before qualification from Pool 5 is sorted out, he added: "I think this group was always one where you're never going to look to go out and get four tries or bonus points for that. Each game is going to be very tough.
"It's very difficult to see too far into the future, but I think it could go down to the final week. It will be very tight, but certainly next week we'll be looking to get another victory."
Coach Mark Anscombe reported no major injury concerns in the wake of what was a bruising battle.
"Not too bad, just a couple of knocks," he said. And gesturing towards captain, Johann Muller, on his right side, Anscombe teased: "I suppose this big fella beside me is the sorest, but that's what happens when you get to his age.
"With tough battles you have a sore body for a couple of days but he's used to that so he'll be bouncing again on Monday. He just needs a couple of days to get himself right."
Then changing the mood, Anscombe added: "No, seriously, there are sore bodies and that's what you expect in a game against Leicester.
"But there's nothing at this stage that looks like it's going to take people out of consideration for next week."
In addition, he revealed that 2011 World Cup-winning All Blacks tight-head John Afoa "will be close".
"We've just got to be careful in monitoring that (calf injury), but he'll be pretty close," the coach said.
Montpellier – always a lot happier at home than on the road – scored two tries in Treviso where scrum-half Jonathan Pelissie and outside-centre Thomas Combezou touched down. Pelissie also bagged a conversion and a penalty, with Benoit Paillaugue – who replaced him – kicking four goals.
However, the fact open-side Mamuka Gorgodze and replacement tight-head Maximiliano Bustos were yellow-carded suggests that discipline is an issue.
That will not be lost on Anscombe, for with Paddy Jackson now playing better than ever – six out of six against Ospreys, followed by six out of seven against Leicester, plus impressive out of hand kicking – and Ruan Pienaar back on board, Ulster can exploit any indiscretions.