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We're hoping quality Piutau has an off-day, says former Wasps team-mate

 

By Jonathan Bradley

Charles Piutau may have only been a Wasps player for a short time, but the former All Black clearly made quite the impression at the Ricoh Arena.

After spending the 2015/16 season in black and yellow, the 25-year-old will be up against plenty of familiar faces when the Coventry outfit come to Belfast on Friday night for the Champions Cup opener, with the visitors' captain Joe Launchbury all too aware of the danger he poses.

"Charles was fantastic for us," said the English international. "In a short space of time he got himself right into the middle of the group and got involved.

"Obviously his performances on the pitch spoke for themselves, he was a quality player for us and he's gone and proved his quality out there as well.

"I know the guys are quite excited about it, he played a massive part in our squad for a year, so to come up against him again is going to be good.

"It'll be good to catch up with him. Hopefully he has a slight off day."

Launchbury, who missed out when Wasps were beaten by Saracens last weekend but is expected to be back for the trip to Belfast, understands the importance of a good start in this competition, but believes that his side will need to be back to their best in a pool that also contains La Rochelle and English rivals Harlequins.

"Kingspan Stadium is obviously a very tough place to go," he admitted.

"Ulster are a side packed not only with internationals but with Lions as well. It's an exciting tie for us first up and we understand going there it's important that we get off to a good start and put in a good performance."

With a squad massively depleted by injuries, and having slipped to third from bottom domestically, Dai Young's side will need a change of fortunes if they are to make an impact this year, but Launchbury feels it is a competition that could bring the best out of the squad.

"It's obviously a fantastic competition for both players and spectators, and we're hoping to improve on our experiences from last year," he said after they were beaten by Leinster in the quarter-finals last time round.

"We're going to be playing 'Quins a few times this year, so by the end of the season we're going to be pretty well acquainted with one another. Obviously we were disappointed with losing to them earlier and very frustrated with how that went but, like I said, we've got the opportunity to play them plenty more times and to improve.

"La Rochelle, the first thing I'd say is that they're a pretty big pack. They've got some large characters in that pack, some massive guys, so that's going to be a big challenge for us up front. We're going to have to have a really good go at that and look at their strengths.

"They obviously did extremely well in the Top14 last year and had a fantastic season, so they're going to be a really big challenge for us.

"Playing away out in France is going to be a big challenge. So those two fixtures against them in a week will be a really good test of where we are."

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