David Humphreys today back Ulster to shock French giants Stade Francais in the Heineken Cup opener at Ravenhill on Saturday.
Stade arrive in Belfast aiming to smash a horrendous record at Ravenhill, having lost on all four previous European Cup visits.
Ewen McKenzie’s side are in red-hot form having won seven out of seven games to make them runaway leaders of the French Top 14 Championship.
One bookmaker has the Paris side 3-10 on to win Pool Four, with Ulster, currently bottom of the Magners League, the massive outsiders at 33-1.
However, Ulster legend Humphreys, who played a key role in all four of Stade’s defeats at Ravenhill, believes another upset could be on the cards, particularly after the province’s 13-9 win over Edinburgh on Friday.
“The players turned a corner on Friday night beating Edinburgh and the hope is now that we can go up another level and take the game to Stade,” said Humphreys, now operations director with Ulster.
“I am confident, with the group of players that we have, we are more than capable of doing that.
“The atmosphere at Ravenhill on Heineken Cup days is just electric, I don’t think anyone can forget what happened against Toulouse two seasons ago, nobody gave us a chance but ourselves.
“I am really looking forward to Saturday, Heineken Cup days at Ravenhill are just special.”
Humphreys admitted it will take a mon umental performance from Ulster however if they are to get their European campaign off to a winning start.
“Stade are recognised as one of the best teams in club rugby and have been consistently excellent over the last 10 years,” added Humphreys.
“They are very fortunate to have the backing of Max Guazzini who provides them with financial backing they need to attract the top players from all over the world. But we have
played Stade a number of times and have beaten them at home each time and have come close to beating them in Paris.”
Meanwhile, Welshman Paul Pook is the new strength and conditioning coach of the senior Ireland squad. Pook, who was head of fitness at Harlequins for five years, has a deal that will take him up to the 2011 World Cup. The former high performance consultant with Ireland Under-21s replaces Fermanagh man Mick McGurn.
“Paul brings experience in this area and importantly a good understanding and knowledge of working with the provinces,” said Ireland coach Declan Kidney. “As with all of the other areas of coaching, we want to be able to work closely with the provinces to allow a smooth transition for the players into and out of the Ireland team.”
l Ulster Under-19s Schools and Ulster Under-18s Schools take on their Connacht counterparts in a double-header at Athlone today as both sides aim to bounce back from disappointing defeats at Leinster.