Ulster can swat Wasps and get Euro campaign off to a flyer, insists Piutau
Ulster star Charles Piutau believes it is crucial his side start their European campaign with a bang tonight and is looking forward to welcoming his old Wasps team-mates to what is sure to be a raucous Kingspan Stadium (7.45pm).
The visit of a big English side under the Friday night lights in Belfast is certainly one to get the hosts' blood pumping, with the Kiwi fullback knowing that ending a run of three straight opening round pool defeats will be key if Director of Rugby Les Kiss is to guide the side back to the quarter-finals.
"Every game is crucial in Europe, even more so at home," said the man who will next season be back in England with Bristol.
"We're putting all our efforts into the first game and getting off to a strong start. It's an exciting week and a big game for us."
The former All Black has saved his best for the Champions Cup, scoring brilliant tries against Clermont and Exeter last season.
"There's always a great atmosphere in Europe," he added.
"Week in, week out the fans show their support.
"The team is looking forward to coming into that crowd and into that atmosphere against Wasps."
With so much on the line, the game will have extra meaning for All Black Piutau as he comes up against his former side.
After the New Zealand union blocked his attempts to play on with the Blues at home in Auckland until his move to Ulster, the 25-year-old spent one season with the Coventry outfit in 2015/16.
Having reached the semi-finals of this competition that season, and played alongside his older brother Siale whom he will once again be reunited with next season, it was a memorable stint in the Midlands, although he jokes that his current coaches haven't needled him for too much information on his old team-mates.
"Nah, the coaches have done a great job (without me)," he laughed.
"There's familiar faces for me so I've spoken a bit to the back three and to the backline, just about their players and their tendencies and things."
While much was made of Wasps making this trip off the back of a short turnaround having played away to Saracens in the Premiership on Sunday afternoon, Piutau is sure that the team that pitches up in Belfast tonight will assuredly be ready to go.
"Whoever comes out for them, it will be a strong team up for the challenge," he said. "Whatever their team it's going to be a great game.
"There's a lot of speed in the back three, and a lot of experience too, the likes of Willie le Roux in as a Springbok.
"There's heaps of strike power and a lot of strong ball carriers like Nathan Hughes and Ashley Johnson too."