Stade Francais may have just registered their seventh successive win in the French Top 14 Championship but coach Ewan McKenzie admits his side are “nervous” of facing Ulster at Ravenhill in the Heineken Cup opener on Saturday.
While the Paris club stretched their lead at the top of the table to eight points with their 34-16 win over Montauban on Saturday, Ulster, in stark contrast, today find themselves back at the bottom of the Magners League table by dint of Connacht’s sensational 19-18 victory over Leinster in Galway last night.
Yet Ulster’s 13-9 win over Edinburgh on Friday, the province’s first after four successive defeats, has given rise to new hope that Stade, who have lost on all four previous visits to Belfast, can be felled again.
And McKenzie says he is leaving no stone unturned for the Pool Four opener.
“I went to watch Ulster play the Ospreys in Wales last weekend as I think it’s important to do as much homework as you can and, while the Top 14 is quite an intense competition, we are managing to find the time to prepare for the European tournament as well,” said McKenzie.
“But I don’t think we will massively change our preparations and we are working on the selection policy more than anything else.
“As far as Ulster go, and looking at their results they have won one game so far, I watched them play against the Ospreys and, while the Welsh were too strong, maybe with a bit more preparation that can change quickly.
“The Heineken Cup is a much coveted trophy, so the pressure is on.
“It doesn’t help the nerves that we start against Ulster in Ravenhill at a ground where we’ve never won before. A week is a long time in rugby and I expect a very hard opening game.”
Meanwhile, Williams will have Paddy Wallace, who has missed the last three games with a hamstring injury, back for Saturday’s showdown and there were no injury concerns from the Edinburgh victory.
Apart from long-term injury victim Simon Danieli, that gives the Ulster coach a full hand to pick from for the first time this season.
Weekend rumours that former Leinster, Ireland and Lions star Denis Hickie is coming out of retirement to sign for Ulster however are well off the mark.
Hickie was at Ravenhill on Friday night, but only as a scout for Leinster.
“I’d love to have him but he was at Ravenhill to watch Edinburgh for Leinster,” said Williams.