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Ulster v Clermont: We don't fear the French, say confident Marshall

Luke is confident another massive French scalp will be taken to finally give province's season lift-off

By Michael Sadlier

As ever with European games, there are several statistics doing the rounds, but one which particularly stands out tells us that Ulster have managed to win seven of their last eight European home games against French opposition.

It's impressive with that one blip coming when the then mighty Toulon turned up for a Saturday early afternoon game back in 2014 and did the needful ahead of the record hammering they eventually meted out to Ulster in the return game later in the pool stages.

And, here we are, with another Saturday lunchtime kick-off and, this time, with the awesomely powerful Clermont - heading the pool with maximum points from two games and also leading the way in the Top 14 - providing the opposition.

Anyway, leaving those worrying parallels aside, Luke Marshall is aware of Ulster's impressive home stat but is also willing to supply his own additional information which seems appropriate as we enter the crucial back-to-back meetings in the Champions Cup with the trip to Clermont coming eight days after tomorrow's crunch European game for Les Kiss's squad.

"We know it's a big ask," says the strong-running centre who was part of Ireland's autumn international squad.

"But we have done it before," he adds of the notably robust home record against French sides - Clermont were even previously beaten here in season 2011-12 - before mentioning that actually doing the double over this weekend's visitors is achievable despite the already daunting prospect of having to take the French giants down at the Kingspan.

"Over the last few years we have won in France and we've beaten the likes of Castres, Montpellier and Toulouse away.

"That instils confidence because once you do it you know you can do it again."

And, of course, beating the French home and away in one season has also been done with Toulouse being seen off in the corresponding back-to-back games this time last year while Oyonnax were also defeated on both occasions in the same campaign.

Not that the 25-year-old is getting ahead of himself here. Marshall fully appreciates that it's one thing to trade stats but quite another to go out and perform where and when it matters.

Indeed, beating Clermont in Belfast doesn't look like being an occasion when the opposition will simply roll over.

"We know that this Clermont side are probably quite a step up and we know that we simply have to be at the top of our game," Marshall maintains of how imperative it is to win the first-up meeting.

"But they are beatable. They were beatable in their last game (Clermont lost at Pau) so we know it is possible (to win)."

Predicting Clermont's selection is certainly tricky with so many quality players at the club, but Marshall is expecting to see France star Wesley Fofana, if fit, playing in midfield possibly alongside Aurelien Rougerie with the dangerous David Strettle and Nick Abendanon forming two thirds of a lethal back three.

"I played against Fofana in the Six Nations a few years ago so I know what he is about," Marshall says.

And the pressure is very much on Ulster too with the prospect of remaining competitive in Pool Five - they are currently third with four points, six behind leaders Clermont - effectively on the line tomorrow.

"These are must-win games, but I actually enjoy the pressure," he says.

"I enjoy playing against the quality players that Europe has to offer and these are the games you want to play.

"Being brought up in Ulster I remember coming here as a kid to watch these big European games and thinking I'd love to play in them when I get older."

Well, this has all the potential of being another seismic occasion and one which could go some way to re-energising Ulster's season after last week's PRO12 victory at Cardiff.

"Two wins in a row in the back-to-back games will set the season up nicely," he adds.

Now that would be some stat.

  • Ulster v Clermont, European Champions Cup: Kingspan Stadium, tomorrow, 1pm

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