Ulster relish Champions Cup opener
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Despite suffering a defeat last week at the hands of Connacht, Ireland back row Robbie Diack is adamant Ulster Rugby is ready to take on Bordeaux for their Champions Cup opener on Saturday.
The 1999 European Champions held the last 100% record in the three European professional leagues going into last weekend's Inter-Pro derby with Connacht Rugby in Galway and just fell short of making it six in a row in a 30-25 defeat against the reigning PRO12 champions.
Ulster head to France for their Pool five clash with a Bordeaux-Begles who have won five of their eight TOP 14 matches to date, including the last three. They warmed-up for their first European clash with Ulster since they beat them 29-16 in the inaugural season by pipping Brive 27-25 at home last weekend.
The South African-born Diack and his teammates have indeed good reason to be confident against French opposition. His side have won eight of their last ten games against French opposition in Europe, including home and away doubles over Oyonnax and Toulouse in last season's Pool stages. Add in away wins in Castres Olympique and Montpellier in recent years. The Belfast-based side have every reason feel prepare for their visit.
"We've come a long way but it's never easy over in France. We're disappointed to finish off this block of games with a loss, but to take our form over the first six weeks in the PRO12 into Europe will be huge for us," said Diack.
"The first game always sets the tone for the tournament and is very important for helping you to get out of the pool. It will be a big test for us.
"But going down to Connacht was the perfect preparation for Europe. It's going to be tough again this week but I think we're in a good place - we're hurting but, at the same time, we're doing pretty well and I think that combination will serve us well,"
Ulster Director of Rugby Les Kiss rested ace scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar for the trip to Galway and is hopefully of having Charles Piutau and Stuart Olding fit to play at Stade Chaban-Delmas on Sunday.
Co-captain Andrew Trimble hopes to prove his fitness in training this week, but lock Franco van der Merwe is set to miss the first two rounds with an ankle problem.