Stakes are high at Welford Road for Leicester and Ulster

Ulster's Roger Wilson is tackled by Leicester's Niall Morris and Toby Flood (c) during the previous Pool Five meeting in October at Ravenhill
Ulster's Roger Wilson is tackled by Leicester's Niall Morris and Toby Flood (c) during the previous Pool Five meeting in October at Ravenhill

The stakes could not be higher at Welford Road on Saturday evening when two European heavyweights go head-to-head in their final pool match in the Heineken Cup.

Ulster travel to reigning English champions, Leicester Tigers, with the aim of beating them for the first time in Europe and secure a lucrative home quarter-final back at Ravenhill in April.

It is a cup final scenario. The same carrot dangles in front of Leicester and with home advantage they will start as favourites.

Both clubs have already assured themselves a place in the quarter-finals, but with the likes of champions Toulon and beaten finalists last year Clermont both through as group winners – an away tie in the last eight will be daunting in France.

Rory Best, who makes his 150th Ulster appearance today, admits he would swap everyone of them if he could get a home tie in the last eight.

“We have put ourselves in a great position. We have won five from five in this group.

“We have one foot in the quarter-finals, but we want to achieve what we set out at the start of the season, win the group and be one of the top four seeds.

“This is a step we have to take,” he added.

Ulster head coach, Mark Anscombe, has made his mark in Europe with the club and a win over the Tigers would be another feather in his cap with the club.

He did raise an eyebrow with his team selection, opting to go with Callum Black and Roger Wilson in the pack instead of Tom Court (at loosehead) and Robbie Diack (at blindside loose).

With Nick Williams and Chris Henry both back from injury, Anscombe was able to go with the same backrow that started in the 22-16 win over Leicester in the corresponding fixture back in October at Ravenhill.

Meanwhile, Leicester have made eight changes to their side form that which secured a try scoring bonus against Treviso in Italy last week.

Anthony Allen and Matt Smith form a revamped centre partnership, with Toby Flood reverting to 10, while Tom Youngs, Ed Slater, Graham Kitchener and Jordan Crane come into the pack.

Leicester’s addition of Allen and Smith sees Vereniki Goneva move to the wing in place of Miles Benjamin, who has been recalled by England Saxons but misses this game with a knee injury.

Club captain Flood moves back to fly-half as Allen who starts at inside centre in what will be his first appearance at Welford Road since October because of injury.

Leicester’s director of rugby Richard Cockerill said: “It is vital that we win because getting home advantage is key if you want to progress in this competition.

“Ulster are very tough. They are pragmatic and efficient and try to press you into mistakes. We have a lot of respect for them.”

Leicester Tigers: Matthew Tait; Niall Morris, Matt Smith, Anthony Allen, Vereniki Goneva; Toby Flood (c), Ben Youngs; Marcos Ayerza, Tom Youngs, Dan Cole, Ed Slater, Graham Kitchener, Jamie Gibson, Julian Salvi, Jordan Crane

Replacements: Rob Hawkins, Boris Stankovich, Fraser Balmain, Louis Deacon, Steve Mafi, David Mele, Owen Williams, Scott Hamilton

Ulster Rugby: Jared Payne; Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, Luke Marshall, Craig Gilroy; Paddy Jackson, Ruan Pienaar; Callum Black, Rory Best, John Afoa, Johann Muller (c), Dan Tuohy, Roger Wilson, Chris Henry, Nick Williams

Replacements: Rob Herring, Tom Court, Ricky Lutton, Iain Henderson, Robbie Diack, Paul Marshall, David McIlwaine, Michael Allen

Ref: Nigel Owens (Wales)