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Marshall expects fired-up opponents

France reject Francois Trinh-Duc will lead a fired-up Montpellier side aiming to prove Philippe Saint-Andre wrong at Ravenhill on Friday night, according to Ulster centre Luke Marshall.

Ulster host Montpellier in round five of the Heineken Cup group stages, knowing victory would hand them control of Pool Five.

Ireland centre Marshall expects a fierce backlash from a Montpellier outfit battling desperately for form.

Montpellier sit eighth in the French Top 14, while home defeats to both UIster and Leicester leave them hanging by a thread in Europe.

Prop Nicolas Mas is Montpellier's only representative in France's RBS 6 Nations squad, and Marshall expects Friday's visitors to be dead-set on reasserting themselves.

"They only had one player in the French squad, and I'm sure there were quite a few of their players who were annoyed about that," Marshall told Press Association Sport.

"So they'll be looking to prove a point and show how good they are and that they should be involved.

"They will want to build momentum from these two Heineken Cup games, to take back into the league too.

"They've lost quite a few in the Top 14 so they will be looking to turn things around and build some momentum back up again."

Ulster are boosted by the return of Ireland hooker Rory Best, who has recovered from the broken arm sustained against New Zealand in the autumn ahead of schedule.

Just seven weeks after suffering the fracture Best is back in action, with captain Johann Muller returning after calf trouble too.

The two best-performing runners-up qualify for the Heineken Cup's quarter-finals.

Ulster top their pool with Montpellier at home and a trip to Leicester next week still to come.

Despite their strategic advantage, Marshall still considers Friday's Montpellier clash a straight knockout contest.

"There's a special buzz around the place in the week of Heineken games," said the 22-year-old.

"It's a must-win game, basically a knockout game for us.

"I think the fans know that too, so it's good to be involved, and to have the ground sold out as well is always great to play in front of that.

"Even though it's the group stages it's effectively a knockout game all on its own.

"That's the way the Heineken is going, it's so competitive that you have to have a near-flawless record to progress from the groups.

"There's probably a little temptation to look towards next week and Welford Road, but if we lose this week then Welford Road becomes a bit more irrelevant.

"We need to win this week to be in with a chance next week."

Scarlets make the trip to Paris to face Racing Metro on Friday night, hoping to go one better than the 26-26 draw the teams shared at Parc y Scarlets on October 19.

Both teams sit on one win and six points, with Clermont and Harlequins in control in Pool Four.

Coach Simon Easterby has made four changes to the side that faced Ospreys in the RaboDirect PRO12 at the Liberty Stadium last week.

Aled Thomas replaces Gareth Owen at full-back, with Gareth Davies coming in at scrum-half for Rhodri Williams.

Johan Snyman and Aaron Shingler slot in for George Earle and Josh Turnbull in the pack.

Wales and Scarlets centre Scott Williams backed his side to take that extra step in the French capital this weekend.

"Racing are a big physical team and their line-outs have been going well for them," Williams told the Scarlets' official website.

"Our forwards have been working hard on that area this week, our set-piece is going to be massive for us on the weekend.

"It was disappointing to come away with a draw against them at home.

"If someone had said at the start of the season that we'd have won and drawn the first two games in the Heineken Cup we would have taken that but afterwards we felt we should have been at the top of the table after the first two rounds and won both.

"It will be a different challenge going out to Paris on Friday but it's one we're looking forward to.

"There are a few new boys in the backline and getting game time together will make us bond a bit more and read each other better."

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