Kingspan crowd have massive role to play in Euro quest: Dwayne Peel
Ulster attack coach Dwayne Peel believes the crowd at Kingspan Stadium can play a big part in Saturday's key Champions Cup clash with Racing 92.
The province has seen average attendance drop at home games this season, and their opening two European clashes drew a combined total of 25,276 on the gate - more than 5,600 fewer than the equivalent fixtures last year.
Their recent game against Munster provided a biggest crowd of the season though, and all indications are that the lure of a visit from a European heavyweight, as well as the stakes on offer for the home side, will see that tally eclipsed this weekend.
"It's great for us as a group," said Peel of the expected bumper crowd. "The boys want to play in front of big crowds and the atmosphere here when it's rocking will be great.
"Ever since I've been here they have been fantastic and obviously a special game like this it will get a big crowd.
"They have a massive part to play, especially in a big game like this.
"It not only carries you over the line but also I've been here as a player myself so I suppose it can be a bit intimidating for opposing teams. We have a fantastic crowd here who are sure to be in good voice on Saturday."
While Racing remain the overwhelming favourites to top the pool, Ulster maintain an outside chance of overhauling them.
Even if - with the French side welcoming an already out of the running Scarlets to Paris in round six - that proves too tall an order however, a victory of any kind on Saturday would put the province in the box seat to claim a quarter-final spot as one of three best runners-up.
"It's an exciting challenge for us," added Peel.
"It's a big European match to start with so that in itself carries a lot of weight with everyone.
"We've just got to go out and really get stuck into them.
"The reality is that they have a good squad of players and we went out there in October and I thought the scoreline (44-12 defeat) didn't reflect that game.
"But they are playing really well and they've got class players, it's just an opportunity for us, we're at home hopefully in front of a big crowd.
"The side we're hopefully going to select, we've got some good players in that squad as well."
Ulster expect to receive the considerable boost of returns by star men Jacob Stockdale and Marcell Coetzee, as well as those rested in recent games.
Winger Craig Gilroy is not ready, however, prompting Ulster to yesterday add Academy youngster Robert Baloucoune to their Champions Cup squad in place of the now-departed Henry Speight.
"I am not sure when he is going to be back but he is not ready now," said Peel of Gilroy.
"It is disappointing to see Henry go. Towards the end of his time here he was really firing for us, I think.
"He is a tough man as well. He hurt his knee early, battled through and played a lot of games hurt. I think we really seen the value of him towards the end. But I suppose it gives a chance for somebody else as well.
"There is definitely a chance for (Baloucoune). He has massive raw talent. He has pace to burn and he is a big man as well. We have only seen the tip of the iceberg with him. He is going to be a good player."