In truth, it’s a completely under-strength Montpellier team that Fabien Galthié has selected for tomorrow night’s visit to Ravenhill, but Ulster will still have to beat what’s in front of them.
The Top 14 outfit’s reserve players will be eager to impress their coach in the hope of earning more game time in the league, so Mark Anscombe should be expecting an early onslaught of physicality. If Ulster are to overcome that and win well, they will need to come out on top of the following head-to-heads.
Tom Court v Maximiliano Bustos
If may only be next season that Ulster realise the true value of Court’s contributions over the past eight seasons, with the Australia-born prop set for a move to London Irish in the summer. The 33-year-old has been part of a strong, if not dominant, Ulster scrum in recent years, as well as featuring in a solid line-out for the northern province.
Court’s latest challenge sees him take on Argentinian international tighthead Maximiliano Bustos. The Puma is being rotated with Nicolas Mas in the number three shirt for Montpellier this season and can be destructive at the scrum when at his best. The 27-year-old will look to attack Ulster’s set piece and Court will need to be proactive in ensuring Bustos is not successful.
Paddy Jackson v Enzo Selponi
It’s not too often that Jackson prepares for a game knowing that he will have a vast experience advantage over his opposite number, but that’s the case this weekend as 20-year-old Enzo Selponi starts for Montpellier. The homegrown out-half played for France U20s in the 2013 Junior World Championship, where his attacking ability showed up well.
Jackson continues to grow as an out-half. ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne.
As with any young 10, it is Selponi’s aptitude in directing his team around the pitch that will come under scrutiny in what is just his fourth professional start. Jackson has begun to answer the doubters in that regard for Ulster this season, successfully assuming more of the playmaking and tactical burden from scrum-half Ruan Pienaar. The 22-year-old’s maturity should stand out tomorrow night.
Nick Williams v Johnnie Beattie
The Kiwi No. 8 makes his first start for Ulster since the 22nd of November, 2013 and his explosiveness has been missed on the pitch in Belfast in recent months. This tie against a relatively callow Montpellier side may be Williams’ perfect chance to get back to steamrolling form, and he will be keen to run at the likes of Selponi.
28-year-old Beattie is a 26-times capped Scottish international. ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne.
Wearing number eight for the French side will be Scottish international Johnnie Beattie, who is heading for the exit door at the end of the season with Ben Mowen rumoured to be arriving. Castres is the likely destination for the former Glasgow man, who remains a powerful ball carrier. His ability to offload has developed in France and if Montpellier are to get on the front foot, Beattie is likely to be centrally involved.
Ulster: Jared Payne; Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, Luke Marshall, Craig Gilroy; Paul Jackson, Ruan Pienaar; Tom Court, Rory Best, John Afoa; Johann Muller (captain), Dan Tuohy; Robbie Diack, Chris Henry, Nick Williams.
Replacements: Rob Herring, Callum Black, Declan Fitzpatrick, Iain Henderson, Roger Wilson, Sean Doyle, Paul Marshall, Michael Allen.
Montpellier: Anthony Floch; Yohann Artru, Anthony Tuitavake, Thomas Combezou, Lucas Dupont; Enzo Selponi, Eric Escande; Na’ama Leleimalefaga, Charles Geli (captain), Maximilliano Bustos; Mickael Demarco, Robins Tchale Watchou; Kellen Galletier, Alexandre Bias, Johnnie Beattie.
Replacements: Thomas Bianchin, Mikheil Nariashvili, Paea Fa’anunu, Mickael Ivaldi, Fred Quercy, Benoit Paillaugue, Pierre Berard, Timoci Nagusa.
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