Leicester game 'will set tone for Ulster's season'


Andrew Trimble says Ulster must try to feed the ball to Jacob Stockdale as much as possible
Heineken Champions Cup: Ulster v Leicester Tigers
Venue: Kingspan Stadium, Belfast Date: Saturday, 13 October Kick-off: 17:30 BST
Coverage: Live commentary on BBC Radio Ulster MW; updates and report BBC Sport website

Ulster’s Champions Cup pool opener against Leicester Tigers on Saturday will “set the tone” for the rest of their season, Andrew Trimble says.

The ex-Ulster and Ireland wing believes his former team could come under pressure if they suffer a first defeat by Leicester at Kingspan Stadium.

“Is this Ulster’s easiest game of the pool? It’s certainly not easy but it is their easiest,” said Trimble.

“I think this game will set the tone for the rest of the campaign.

Ulster begin their campaign against two-time winners Leicester, who have failed to win in Belfast in four previous attempts, before also facing French giants Racing 92 and Pro14 rivals Scarlets in Pool Four.

Trimble said: “Ulster could win all three games at home, pick up a point in Paris, beat Leicester away – I think Scarlets away will be tough – but I think they could have four wins and the odd bonus point here or there and be in really good shape and have a really good chance of qualifying.

“But if they lose this game, they could be in trouble and under pressure straight away and then you’re in Europe and in trouble in the Pro14 as well so this game is massive.”

Ulster are looking to recover from two consecutive interprovincial defeats

Ulster’s four-match unbeaten start to the season under new head coach Dan McFarland has been soured by their two most recent performances, which saw them suffer a record 64-7 defeat by Munster before also losing at home to Connacht for the first time in 58 years.

Trimble added: “The way Ulster were playing early in the season, I think they were top of the offload charts for the first couple of weeks.

“So if they get back to playing that sort of rugby and that sort of tempo, obviously it will be weather dependent, but you would imagine that Ulster will be trying to put the pace up and Leicester will be trying to do the opposite.

“Ulster did a lot right last weekend with ball in hand. Initially they tried to take Connacht on and go toe-to-toe with them and it was difficult because they were coming off second best.

“I think there was a realisation, ‘let’s go out the back’, play a few tip-ons and try to get a little bit more space and manipulate their defence a little. They got a lot more joy that way.

“So if that’s going to be the case, they keep the tempo high and get the ball to the likes of Jacob Stockdale and generally just threaten them a little bit more on the line. It’s no coincidence that when you put the ball in Jacob’s hands he scores tries for you.”

Leicester’s Geordan Murphy and Ulster’s Andrew Trimble are their club’s record European try scorers

Leicester will use ‘biggest, dirtiest pack’ they have

Leicester are now coached by Geordan Murphy, who took charge following the shock departure of Matt O’Connor just one game into the new season.

The ex-Ireland full-back is an iconic figure at Welford Road, where he scored 691 points in 16 seasons as a player, and he has led the Tigers to three wins from his five games as head coach.

Former Ulster and Leicester fly-half Ian Humphreys expects Murphy to target the Ulster forward pack on Saturday, saying: “He wants Leicester to go back to the Leicester of old so it’s going to be a big, big game on Saturday.

“He’s going to pick the biggest, dirtiest pack that he’s got and he’s going to try to bully Ulster.

“They’ll just be coming over trying to kick and maul over Ulster. I think George Ford and Ben Youngs are underestimated in terms of how good their kicking game is.

“George Ford will just be targeting high balls and crossfield kicks and then, all of a sudden, a winger will get caught out of position and he’ll kick it 80 yards long.

“I think that is going to be really interesting how much he mixes Manu [Tuilagi], if he’s fit, running down Billy Burns’ channel versus how he’s going to kick in behind and try to torch the backfield.”

An under-strength Ulster scrum struggled to compete against the Connacht pack last weekend and the Irish province will be hoping that the return to fitness of Ireland internationals Marty Moore and Jordi Murphy can bolster their set-piece on Saturday.

“You could definitely see it becoming a set-piece battle,” added Trimble.

“Certainly the way the Ulster scrum went last weekend you would imagine Leicester will just roll up their sleeves and getting excited about a big opportunity there.

“But the other thing is that these are two sides that have been a bit leaky in defence so it could end up going the other way. If it loosens up a little bit, there could be a few tries and it could be a little bit more of a spectacle but we’ll find out in that first scrum.

“We’ll find out if Leicester set their stall out and we’ll be under no illusion what way the game is going to look after that.”

Andrew Trimble and Ian Humphreys were speaking to BBC Sport NI’s Gavin Andrews on ‘The Rugby Social’

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