New director of rugby, Les Kiss, admitted he was apprehesnive of the threat posed by Oyonnax on Saturday when the Province embarks on this season’s European challenge with a step into the unknown.
The French side make their debut in the European Champions Cup and it was their home record which stood out last season in clinching qualification from the Top 14.
Looking ahead to facing the French side first in a group which includes Toulouse and Saracens, Kiss admits his first Euro campaign scares him a bit and that this week’s game at Oyonnax is a must-win game.
“The reason I guess is they (Oyonnax) did exceptionally well to get themselves into the Champions Cup last year.
“The way they did it was being exceptional at home.
“So we are on a 3G pitch up in the mountains and they will be hungry and they would love nothing better than to be able to say that their first tilt at the EC was a victory
“But that is what you also embrace.
“You like that part of the game that offers up opportunity to see how you cope and stand up to it.”
Ulster have played on an artifical surface in the past - against Saracens and Cardiff Blues, but they do have a 3G pitch facility at the back of the Kingspan Stadium and the players did train on it on Tuesday.
“The kickers have done a bit more on it and while it is used throughout the year it is also good to have it there.”
Playing on the 3G will add to the weekend challenge in the French Alps.
Kiss added: “It becomes a quicker game (on that surface).
“You just need to be sure of foot. You can see when they play on it, their speed men and even some of their power men, gain purchase off the ground quickly, get their momentum quickly and there are some big powerful boys on that team, “So just being ready as to how you are prepared to meet that is important.
“If you meet it fractionally soft it can hurt you. You just have to be prepared that collisions are going to happen a bit quicker.
“The ball seems to travel further than on most other pitches. That is because they can get a clean strike at it and the elevation might just give that ball an extra five or eight metres in the air.
“There is no doubt they are comfortable on it.”
Aside from the longer term injuries to Tommy Bowe, Jared Payne, Iain Henderson and Stuart Olding, Kiss and his coaching staff are able to draw on a healthy squad.
Andrew Trimble, Nick Williams, Roger Wilson and Louis Ludik have all been passed to play and there is the added bonus of Luke Marshall being available sooner than expected following a thumb operation.
“It is good to have a number of options available to us,” said Kiss.