Belfast Telegraph

Ulster coach Anscombe has healthy respect for the Tigers

By Niall Crozier

Ulster coach Mark Anscombe makes no attempt to disguise the respect in which he holds Leicester Tigers.

England's Aviva Premiership holders will provide his side's opposition in tomorrow night's Heineken Cup opener at long-ago-sold-out Ravenhill and he expects the Welford Road team to arrive today intent on exorcising the ghost of January 14, 2012 when Ulster beat them 41-7, their heaviest-ever European whipping.

"When you have players of their calibre, it has been drummed into them what happened at Ravenhill in the past. And the one thing I know about quality players is that they want to fix things when you have the reputation of having done poorly somewhere in the past. These guys don't want that hanging over them forever," he warned.

"Now I know that it will have been thrown down their throats for the past week or two what happened last time. So they'll be wanting to make amends for that."

Anscombe holds these particular opponents in the highest regard.

"I suppose in my time over here if there's one team I've come to admire and respect the way they play, how they go about it and what they have achieved, it is Leicester," he said.

"They play a good brand of rugby, they're tough, confrontational. But they've also got their silky skills to score some good tries.

"I've a lot of admiration for the likes of Ben Youngs and particularly Toby Flood, who is an outstanding player.

"They're key to them – they give them the tempo they need in their game, they give direction to their big pack. And they've got a great set-piece.

"But, you know, we've got a good history against them. We know we can beat them because we've done it and that gives us confidence.

"But we've also got to be realistic and know that what has happened in the past means absolutely nothing.

"They have a lot of experience; they have five British Lions."

Then, mischievously, he added: "Like the Ospreys had when we did a job on them at the weekend."

He places great emphasis on the first match of the trail being a home date.

"Hugely important," he said. "I couldn't stress enough how fortunate it is that in the first four rounds – those two windows (October and December) – we have home games first in each of them. That's crucial, because if you win those home games you have momentum."

At this stage he knows his 23; the 15 starters and eight replacements will be named today at noon.

Jared Payne has recovered from last weekend's sickness, but back three player Craig Gilroy (ankle) is a doubt and the match may have come slightly too early for tight-head John Afoa (calf).

"Jared's good. He didn't play at the weekend as he had that stomach bug. He went to the airport and he looked like death row, so we thought 'Long journey, long day' and looking to this weekend the wise thing was to send him home," Anscombe said.

"Gilly is different. He's a good young man and it's a big season so we don't want to play him if it's not right and the risk is too great.

"John is nearly there. He has some troubles with his calves but he's not far off.

"This weekend? It'll be touch and go."

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