EUROPEAN CHAMPIONS CUP: Ulster and Munster ready for stiff challenges to target knockout stages

Craig Gilroy during the ERCC clash between Ulster Rugby and Toulouse in Belfast
Craig Gilroy during the ERCC clash between Ulster Rugby and Toulouse in Belfast

Ulster’s 38-0 thumping of Toulouse will live long in the memory of Craig Gilroy, but the twinkle-toes wing knows the size of the challenge that awaits at the Stade Ernest Wallon on Sunday.

The triumph at the Kingspan Stadium put Ulster back in the quarter-final reckoning after a home defeat to Saracens. Saracens are running away with Pool 1, with three wins from three and a home clash over Champions Cup new boys Oyonnax to come. A second triumph in as many weeks for Ulster on Sunday would keep the pressure on, but Gilroy knows they are in for a frosty welcome out in Toulouse.

He said: “Although we enjoyed last Friday, and took pride in what we had achieved and about the way we went about our business in the week before the game, in terms of our training and preparation, this is a totally different game over there in France.

“As far as we are concerned it’s nil-nil in this fixture. We’ve put last weekend aside, taken some positives from it, clearly, but we’ve been making ‘tweaks’ which we hope will add to our performance level.

“Toulouse will be a totally different proposition at home in front of their own crowd. It’s part of our plan to do everything we can to block out the crowd and the atmosphere in the stadium. And the best way to do that is to play well, to express ourselves as we know we can, and to get down to our work this weekend and get the result we need to make last Friday mean something.

“Yes, the win at the Kingspan was a highlight of my career in an Ulster jersey, but I think it will mean more when I’m looking back at my time in rugby. To me we need to approach every game as we did the last couple of weeks, for the platform for the European win was built the previous week.”

Meanwhile, Leicester will take a major stride towards the Champions Cup quarter-finals if they beat Welford Road visitors Munster on Sunday.

After winning in Limerick last Saturday, the unbeaten Pool Four leaders have established considerable momentum, and just two changes from that game see starts for Peter Betham in midfield and fly-half Freddie Burns, who replaces Owen Williams after the Welshman jarred a knee at Thomond Park.

Munster, though, are already scrambling to keep up with the pace set by Leicester, and head coach Anthony Foley knows his players need a vast improvement this time around.

“We just weren’t good enough (last Saturday). We conceded three of the softest tries I’ve seen us concede,” Foley said.

“We didn’t take our opportunities. When you work so hard to get close to the line, that’s when there is pressure on your attack, but we didn’t look after the ball. A couple of times we kicked away too much ball, gave away a couple of soft turnovers and didn’t put pressure on them

“But in the scrum and the maul, Leicester beat us fair and square. Now it’s up to us to go to Welford Road and reverse the result.”