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Dublin: 11°C Thursday 6 May 2021

Ulster front up for Europe on traditional happy hunting ground

The northern province have won all four meetings with Bath in Europe, but continuing the trend will be a difficult task today.

Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

THE SEASON, YOU may well have heard, starts here.

And where better to press on out into another European expedition than from the heart of old England.

The Rec provides the back-drop as Ulster try to time their run to the peak of their powers. The grand old venue has traditionally been a happy hunting ground for the northern province as they have won on both their previous visits.

The curious thing about the tale of the tape between these two sides, however, is that all four previous meetings – all four Ulster wins – occurred in the space of just 14 months.

It was 2010 when Andrew Trimble showed the full length of his stride and stamina to power through defender after defender on a remarkable 70 metre try-scoring run through very soft January turf.

Come December, a snowy Rec was the scene of another Ulster win, this one courtesy of a fabulous Nevin Spence finish in the corner.

The hosts will be confident of bucking the near-decade-old trend. Their 50% success rate in the Premiership this season comes thanks to their home wins. Stuart Hooper’s side are well-stocked with talent as World Cup finalists Sam Underhill and Jonathan Joseph are back in club colours. With Rhys Priestland at 10 while Semesa Rokoduguni and Ruaridh McConnochie threaten out wide there will be no shortage of firepower for Bath to test Ulster with.

billy-burns Billy Burns in training. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Arguably the most intriguing personal battle though, will be the fraternal one between Ulster 10 Billy Burns and the big brother he will attempt to move around the back-field with the boot, Freddie. The Belfast-based Burns, spoke with great affection for the formative years he spent as a ball boy for Bath at the Rec. But on this return he will be eager to show his maturity.

Dan McFarland looks set to send his team out to play some grown-man rugby anyway. Even after an inter-pro clash in Limerick where his side appeared just a few decisions away from winning, the head coach cut an upbeat figure due to a ferocious physical display from his pack.

A destructive scrum was the jewel in that crown and, with Marty Moore and Jack McGrath fit to fire, the northern province will hope to make Underhill feel a distinct sense of deja vu on a back-pedalling set-piece.

The addition of Iain Henderson will add an extra dimension to Ulster’s forward focus while the back row trio of Matty Rea, Jordi Murphy and Marcell Coetzee will bring serious physicality on both sides of the ball as they bid to move beyond a stuttering run of Pro14 form.

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john-cooney-dejected-at-the-end-of-the-game Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Though Burns will be a focal point for the cameras around his home town, the presence of Will Addison, Jacob Stockdale and Stuart McCloskey will give the brilliantly in-form John Cooney plenty of options to put to work behind the pack.

The lunchtime kick-off (13.00, Channel 4) means both sides have the chance to steal a march on their Pool 3 rivals and get the feet up before most slip their boots on.

Harlequins take on Clermont at 17.30 this afternoon. By that time, McFarland will hope to have his squad packed up and headed for home, where they will lie in wait for Clermont to come next Friday.


15. Freddie Burns
14. Semesa Rokoduguni
13. Jonathan Joseph
12. Jamie Roberts
11. Ruaridh McConnochie
10. Rhys Priestland
9. Will Chudley
1. Beno Obano
2. Tom Dunn,
3. Will Stuart
4. Josh McNally
5. Charlie Ewels (Capt)
6. Mike Williams,
7. Sam Underhill
8. Zach Mercer


16. Jack Walker
17. Lewis Boyce
18. Christian Judge
19. Elliott Stooke
20. Josh Bayliss
21. Chris Cook
22. Max Wright
23. Gabe Hamer-Webb


15. Will Addison
14. Rob Lyttle
13. Luke Marshall
12. Stuart McCloskey
11. Jacob Stockdale
10. Billy Burns
9. John Cooney

1. Jack McGrath
2. Rob Herring
3. Marty Moore
4. Iain Henderson (Capt)
5. Sam Carter
6. Matthew Rea
7. Jordi Murphy
8. Marcell Coetzee


16. Adam McBurney
17. Eric O’Sullivan
18. Tom O’Toole
19. Alan O’Connor
20. Sean Reidy
21. Dave Shanahan
22. Angus Curtis
23. Louis Ludik

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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