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Ulster to face familiar foes in Champions Cup

Ulster overcame Clermont Auvergne in the 2016/17 campaign at the Kingspan Stadium before losing the reverse fixture. The sides have been paired once again in the Champions Cup Ulster overcame Clermont Auvergne in the 2016/17 campaign at the Kingspan Stadium before losing the reverse fixture. The sides have been paired once again in the Champions Cup
By David Mohan

ULSTER will face familiar foes Clermont Auvergne in next season’s European Champions Cup as Dan McFarland’s side look to build on a promising campaign last time out.

As-well-as the French giants, Ulster have been pitted against Harlequins and Bath from the English Premiership in Pool Three where they will hope to reach the knockout stages once again on the road to the final in Marseille.

Ulster last faced Clermont – who finished second in the Top 14 last season – in the 2016/17 campaign where they won just two games and finished bottom of the Pool, but one of those victories was against the French side.

Harlequins and Bath finished fifth and sixth in the Premiership respectively last term, so the draw has been relatively kind although Ulster’s Operations Director, Bryn Cunningham said nobody at the Kingspan Stadium will be taking anything for granted.

“Every team in this competition is incredibly strong,” he warned.

“The thing for us was – and I think for every team in this competition – can you avoid (champions) Saracens? They’re a pretty phenomenal side as we’ve seen last season and for the last number of seasons by winning the double. So yeah, we’re happy.

“Clermont is a top side and we’ve been there a couple of times before. It’s an unbelievable atmosphere – one of the best you will get in European rugby, so that is one for the fans as much as the players and the staff.

“Obviously, we have two English sides in there as well and we’ve had that before on a number of occasions so they will be a tough battles.

“Bath have a very proud history and they’ve won the European Cup many years ago like ourselves. They will be wanting to take that a step further now because they haven’t been in those latter stages in a number of years and want to be right there at the sharp end of competitions moving forward like ourselves.

“There won’t be any easy games and Bath are going to be an exciting prospect coming to the Kingspan. Overall, we are relatively happy and we just have to grow as a team. If we are playing at the top of our ability, then we are capable of getting out of that group.”

Last season, Ulster made huge strides after a disappointing previous campaign when they won five from six in their pool and reached the quarter-finals where they were unlucky not to defeat eventual finalists, Leinster at the Aviva Stadium.

The aim will be to find a similar level of consistency and that will be necessary given the different dynamic to European rugby according to Cunningham.

“We had a very strong season just gone,” he added.

“Winning five from six in the European group stages is a great achievement and coming so close to usurping Leinster in the quarter-finals certainly gave us the appetite in such an amazing competition to go at least one step further for this season coming, but we know that’s no easy task. You can’t rest on your laurels because every team is growing all the time.

“It’s six games and you know you have to be at your best in all six if you are to have any chance of getting out of the group stages.”

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