ULSTER captain, Johann Muller, accepts there may be a level of expectation going into this season’s Heineken Cup but the team are only focused on one thing – the opening game against Castres at Ravenhill next Friday (October 12).
Having reached last year’s final showdown at Twickenham and losing comprehensively to Irish Provincial rivals, Leinster, the Ulster support have a firm belief their team can repeat the feat and reach the final in Dublin next May.
Early season form in the RaboDirect PRO12 has been impressive, winning four from four and currently sitting top of the table with a game in hand ahead of this Friday’s visit of Connacht.
Muller, who hopes to return from a minor leg injury for this week’s game having missed the seven try walloping of Cardiff Blues in Wales last weekend, said the Heineken Cup was a different proposition from the domestic league.
“Every team competing in Europe raises their game for the matches and we have a particularly difficult group to come through once again,” he said.
“Yes last year’s was a tough pool, but there are some huge challenges ahead of us this season.
“It is all about getting out of the Pool, and that is one of the hardest things to do. You have to have a certain element of luck in Europe, sometimes getting that rub of the green or the odd lucky bounce.”
Ulster, champions of Europe in 1999, have only managed to get out of the group phase on two occasions since, last year on that magical run which took them to the final. The year before they lost to Northampton Saints – one of their pool opponents this season – in the quarter-finals at Milton Keynes.
Muller attended yesterday’s Irish tournament launch of the Cup along with Ulster head coach, Mark Anscombe and representatives of the other three Provinces.
Of course, Leinster are the current defending champions and are embarking on a record breaking three titles in a row and it is a challenge head coach, Joe Schmidt is looking forward to.
Schmidt said: “One of the great things about the Heineken Cup is that you talk about teams with superb individual players and that gets supporters excited.
“We’re just as excited about how big the challenge is going to be this season.”