Belfast Telegraph

We proved Clermont can be conquered, says Ulster's Clarke

 

By Jonathan Bradley

It may now have been three seasons since Ulster found themselves in the knockout stages of European Rugby's top competition, but the province can still offer some insight into what their Irish rivals have in store this weekend.

The Kingspan outfit have already faced, and indeed beaten, the Clermont side that Leinster will tackle tomorrow, while their recent history with Munster's opponents Saracens has been a frustrating tale thanks to four defeats since 2013 at the hands of the Champions Cup holders.

Clermont's visit to Belfast has been the high point of Ulster's uneven season so far - Les Kiss' men secured a bonus-point win over the French giants - although the trip to the famed Stade Marcel Michelin was a less successful venture.

The province brought nothing back home, with a late comeback attempt only serving to put a somewhat more respectable gloss on a 38-19 scoreline.

And Ulster forwards coach Allen Clarke believes it will be a relief for Leinster that tomorrow's clash will be played in Lyon, not the ground the Yellow Army have made such an unhappy hunting ground for so many visiting teams over the past few years.

"Clermont, they have massive talent," said the former hooker who won the European Cup with Ulster in 1999.

"But we've shown that you can take that on.

"For Leinster, the beauty is that they're going to Lyon and not Clermont.

"The French will see that as an away game as much as anything.

"Leinster have won there in the past and we wish them well."

As for the challenge that awaits Munster in Dublin today, Clarke has been on a coaching ticket that has struggled with Saracens in the past, but the man who will join the set-up at Ospreys this summer has a far more personal connection to Europe's top side.

It was with their head coach Mark McCall that Clarke played in the 1990s, featuring in the side that won the province's only European trophy, although McCall was injured when Colomiers were knocked off in the 1999 final.

Having went on to work together as coaches for their native side, few are better placed to judge the job the Bangor man has been doing in London.

"Obviously Saracens are a machine come this time of year," said Clarke.

"They've got class all around and they work hard for one another.

"They're very efficient in where they play the game, they're well organised, they don't miss tackles and when they get close to your line they apply pressure.

"But they have the game breakers too."

Clarke, though, thinks the Dublin locale will give the two-time champions a huge boost as they aim to make the final for the first time since 2008.

"For Munster, playing them in Ireland it'll add to the performance," Clarke commented. "There's no doubt about that. That's going to be a huge challenge for Saracens."

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