European Champions Cup: Ulster v Racing 92


Baloucoune scored his first try for Ulster in his last appearance against Munster
European Rugby Champions Cup
Venue: Kingspan Stadium, Belfast Date: Saturday, 12 January Kick-off: 15:15 GMT
Coverage: Live coverage on BBC Radio Ulster MW plus live scores on the BBC Sport website.

Robert Baloucoune will make his first European appearance for Ulster in their crucial Champions Cup tie with Racing 92 on Saturday.

The 21-year-old wing replaces Henry Speight, who has returned to Australia, in one of two changes from Ulster’s last European outing against Scarlets.

Alan O’Connor will partner Kieran Treadwell at lock in the absence of the injured Iain Henderson.

Ulster sit second in Pool Four, five points behind the French side.

Only O’Connor and flanker Sean Reidy retain their places from the team that suffered a 40-7 defeat by Leinster at the RDS last week.

With Speight back at Super Rugby side Brumbies and Craig Gilroy still sidelined through injury, Dan McFarland has selected Baloucoune for what is arguably Ulster’s biggest game of the season so far.

The former Academy wing has not played since 21 December having been given a two-week ban following a dangerous aerial challenge on Munster’s Darren Sweetnam.

Having been shown a yellow card for the first minute challenge, Baloucoune returned to the action to score Ulster’s second try in a 19-12 victory.

As expected, McFarland has recalled his full contingent of available Ireland internationals including Stockdale, who is the only player in this season’s competition to have scored a try in each round.

European Champions Cup Pool Four
P W D L Pts
Racing 92 4 4 0 0 19
Ulster 4 3 0 1 14
Leicester 4 1 0 3 6
Scarlets 4 0 0 4 2

Hosts targets quarter-final berth

Back-to-back bonus-point wins over Scarlets have put Ulster in contention for a place in the last eight of the competition, with the three best runners-up accompanying the five pool winners in the quarter-finals.

The northern province have not reached the knockout stage since 2014 and know that a win on Saturday will leave them well placed for qualification before their final group game against Leicester at Welford Road next week.

Since lifting the European Cup 20 years ago Ulster have won 17 of their 23 home games against French opposition.

However having already claimed an emphatic 44-12 win over their Irish opponents in October, Racing will be eyeing a win that would secure top spot in Pool Four.

Last year’s beaten finalists have once again displayed their vast array of attacking talent in the opening four rounds and are the competition’s highest point scorers.

Simon Zebo will make his first appearance on Irish soil since joining from Munster at the beginning of the season, while Scotland’s Finn Russell continues at fly-half.

In the other Pool Four fixture, Leicester travel to Parc y Scarlets knowing that anything less than a bonus-point win will all but end their faint hopes of qualification.

Ulster: Ludik; Baloucoune, Addison, McCloskey, Stockdale; Burns, Cooney; O’Sullivan, Best (capt), Moore, O’Connor, Treadwell; Reidy, Murphy, Coetzee.

Replacements:Herring, Warwick, Kane, Nagle, Timoney, Shanahan, Lowry, Cave.

Racing 92: Dulin; Zebo, Vakatawa, Chavancy, Imhoff; Russell, Machenaud; Gogichashvili, Szarzewski (capt), Tameifuna, Le Roux, Nakarawa; Lauret, Chouzenoux, Claassen.

Replacements: Baubigny, Kakovin, Colombe-Reazel, Palu, Sanconnie, Iribaren, Klemenczak, Volavola.

Referee: Matthew Carley (RFU)

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