Familiar foes battle it out in new-look competition
Leicester and Ulster meet for the third time in four seasons in the preliminary stages and, with the reigning double champions Toulon also pitched in a tough-looking Pool 3, both sides will need to hit the ground running.
Ulster certainly hold the psychological edge here, winning the corresponding fixture home and away last season en route to topping their pool and securing a home quarter-final. Leicester did still progress as one of the two best runners-up but, with Toulon to come, a repeat of that double slip-up will surely see the Tigers eliminated.
Last season the northern Irish province ended the Tigers’ unbeaten home run of 25 matches while also taking the spoils at Ravenhill. Indeed in 2011/12 the Ulstermen inflicted Leicester’s record defeat (41-7) in the European Cup.
Tigers have already lost at home in the Aviva Premiership this season and come into this on the back of a poor start to their domestic campaign, which has only been compounded by a seemingly endless injury list.
Ulster are seeking to qualify for the knockout stages for the fifth consecutive season and looked impressive last weekend in toppling PRO12 pace-setters Glasgow, who had been undefeated in the regular season dating back to March 1st.
Leicester will hope the ageless Brad Thorn, now in his 40th year, will help inspire the injury-ravaged Tigers in the same way he did with Leinster en route to European glory in 2012. The home side will also be boosted by a much-needed win at home to Harlequins in their last outing, which ended a three-match losing streak, as well as the expected return of Manu Tuilagi from injury.
Ulster are missing their match-winner from last season’s 22-19 win, Ruan Pienaar, with in-form winger Andrew Trimble also a doubt but still possess enough pace and guile out wide in Graig Gilroy, Tommy Bowe and Jared Payne to compensate.
Expect a forward-orientated battle as both sides look to dominate territory. It should be tight but Ulster have the back division – and importantly the know-how – to win at Welford Road are available at 13/10.
The match kicks off at 7.45pm on Saturday October 18th at Welford Road.