Belfast Telegraph

Heineken Cup: Ulster live and kicking with Humphreys

By Ciaran Donaghy

It may not exactly be a case of winner takes all at Ravenhill on Saturday but whoever comes out on top will have one foot firmly in the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup after Ulster’s clash with powerful Biarritz (3.30pm).

Ian is the real deal in a Biarritz signings boostStep up in class: Ian Humphreys’ fine kicking form makes him the key man as Ulster prepare for their massive Heineken Cup test against Biarritz at Ravenhill on Saturday

The French side top Pool Four, three points ahead of Brian McLaughlin's men, going into the eagerly awaited showdown.

Biarritz won at home with 32 second half points in a 35-13 bonus point victory and would have had the group sown up already if they hadn't unexpectedly slipped up in Aironi.

That threw Ulster a lifeline and they seized it strongly, beating Bath home and away.

As Ulster prepare for their biggest home game since the 1999 semi-final against Stade Francais, they have been boosted by news off the pitch.

Scrum half Ruan Pienaar has recovered from the rib injury that forced him off at half time against Treviso last Friday while Ireland winger Andrew Trimble will be fit after suffering a back spasm.

Ireland lock Dan Tuohy has penned a new two year deal at Ravenhill while young guns Paddy McAllister and Nevin Spence have been upgraded from development to full contracts.

Tuohy scored with his first touch in international rugby against the All Blacks last summer and signed for Ulster from Exeter in 2009.

McAllister and Spence have both broken into the first team squad this season and have turned in a string of fine performances.

Spence is likely to start against Biarritz after scoring one of the tries in the bonus point win over Treviso, 32-13.

Out half Ian Humphreys was man of the match in that game and he is looking forward to the challenge of the French side.

“The Treviso win will give us confidence going into the Biarritz game.

“We got to run a few patterns and a few plays and we have no serious injuries,” stated Humphreys.

“This is the start of a massive fortnight and everyone is excited about Biarritz coming to Ravenhill. Hopefully we produce a performance to match, backed by a good turnout from the fans.”

Saturday's match could come down to a battle of the kickers, especially if the weather conditions are bad and Humphryes will pit his wits against French international Dimitri Yachvili who has scored over 550 points in the Heienken Cup.

“The kicking off the ground is going OK at the minute but I was disappointed to miss a conversion against Treviso. I've been working hard with Ruan, Niall O'Connor and Neil Doak and it seems to be paying dividends so long may it continue.

“There was one kick I was very lucky with against Treviso. I didn't hit it well but they say the more you practice the luckier you get,” joked Humphreys.

Ulster took their foot off the gas against Treviso, having secured a bonus point by half-time, and Humphreys knows they can't afford to do that on Saturday.

“I thought our back three were excellent and counter attacked at every opportunity and a few of the tries came from those opportunities and it was a nice line out from the forwards for the fourth try.

“We played some nice stuff but the second half was poor and we are going to have to lift that for this week against Biarritz.”

The French side warmed up for the trip to Belfast with a 10 try demolition of Agen at the weekend.

Hooker Benoit August and back rower Wenceslas Lauret both scored three tries apiece with flying winger Takudzwa Ngwenya adding two and the win took Biarritz to fourth in the Top 14 table.

Belfast Telegraph


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