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Justin Fitz the bill for Ulster

Heineken Cup

By Gavin Mairs

Justin Fitzpatrick is the only player in the Ulster starting line-up who knows what it takes to beat Bourgoin.

The French side may not be a feared force in the Heineken Cup, but in the French Championship, there are few harder teams to travel to.

The Stade Pierre Rajon has been a fearsome fortress for Bourgoin over the years.

And with temperatures set to fall below freezing point tonight and a raucous crowd of over 15,000 expected, Fitzpatrick's first-hand knowledge from his two years spent with French side Castres will be vital for Ulster's bid to keep their Heineken Cup hopes alive.

"We are under no illusions to the test we face tonight," said Fitzpatrick, the sole survivor from Ulster's European Cup winning side left in the starting line-up.

"Bourgoin is a very difficult place to take points. They are a very good outfit and their form in the French Championship over the last 10 years has been very, very good.

"They have not always translated that through into the Heineken Cup but the pool has taken note of how well they did against the Ospreys last weekend in getting a losing bonus point and it seems their focus has changed slightly in this competition.

"That said, we have got a lot of experience tonight and it is about us concentrating on what we can do and standing up and being counted."

Fitzpatrick's sole victory over Bourgoin came in the French Cup final in Narbonne in 2003 and he has yet to taste victory at the Stade Pierre Rajon.

"I drew there with Castres 18-18 and that was the first time they hadn't won in two seasons so it felt like a victory," added Fitzpatrick.

"It is a difficult place. They are not the most complicated of rugby sides. They do what it says on the tin.

"It is not the flashiest of stadiums and the stands are quite close to the pitch. It is a tight wee place and Bourgoin is only a small town itself so every man and their dog will be there. They have very good support.

"They play strong direct rugby and it is really about us matching that."

Fitzpatrick has been around enough corners to have seen coaches come and go, as well as experience the good times and the bad.

So what does he feel is key for Ulster to find a way out of their current crisis?

"It is a very difficult week and it was a big shock on Tuesday," he added. " Unfortunately in sport, these things come quick and fast and we have to move on and go out and perform tonight.

"We can't wait to see what happens. It is difficult but for all of us it is about doing what we need to do mentally because we need to go into the lion's den tonight."

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