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No risks with Watson ahead of Belfast trip, says Hooper

Injury woe: Bath’s Anthony Watson had to be taken off
Injury woe: Bath’s Anthony Watson had to be taken off
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

While Saturday's defeat at the hands of Clermont leaves Ulster's stated goal of a home quarter-final in the Champions Cup set to go unfulfilled, ensuring their place in the knockout stages as a best runner-up remains very much in play.

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Having won four from four to start the campaign before the loss at the Stade Marcel Michelin, victory over Bath would take the province to at least 21 points, a tally that would ensure a quarter-final as the sixth seed.

That previous good form will have Ulster in a confident mood, especially at home where they have not lost for 19 matches.

Bath, in contrast, are in the middle of what is now their worst ever run in European competition.

The 1998 champions have lost six games in a row in continental competition, five of them coming this season with the latest a frustrating 25-19 reverse at home to Premiership rivals Harlequins on a night when a much-changed panel struggled at the line-out especially.

Worse still, they lost England star Anthony Watson to yet another injury.

Stuart Hooper, Bath's director of rugby, said: "Anthony feels alright. We were just making sure we looked after him and to make sure we got him through. It's not his knee. He just came off. He pulled up a bit tight so we just brought him off.

"Charts (assistant coach Luke Charteris) is already looking at the details to work out what went wrong (at the line-out). It is something we pride ourselves on so that is disappointing, but we will fix it."

Going through as the best of the runners-up would see Ulster travel to the third seed in a prospective quarter-final, at this stage looking likely to be either Exeter or Toulouse.

The Chiefs, where native Ulstermen Ian Whitten and Gareth Steenson are on the books, last played the province in 2017 while French giants Toulouse, who beat Connacht in Galway on Saturday, are Ulster's most frequent Euro opponents.

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