“Racing 92 will be another step up for Ulster” (Rory Best, Ulster Captain)
Round 2 of the Champion’s Cup sees Ulster travel to France to take on a Racing 92 who have been losing finalists on two of the last three occasions. It is a top of the table clash with both clubs winning their first Round matches.
The game will be played indoors on a 4G surface and the Ulstermen will have their work cut out with talisman John Cooney unable to travel through injury.
In Round 1, Ulster hosted Leicester at the Kingspan Stadium. It was a physical encounter that they didn’t have it all their own way. They were losing at halftime but a spirited and more clinical second half gave Ulster the win.
Although the match was played in tough weather conditions, Ulster had a late chance for a fourth try and a bonus point – I can’t help but think this could come back to haunt them at the end of the group stages.
On the other hand, Ulster’s opponents Racing 92 travelled to Llanelli to take on the Scarlets. Historically, French sides have not travelled well in European competition; this was definitely a potential stumbling block against a dangerous Scarlets side.
Racing and Scarlets are both keen to play an expansive game; however, the conditions didn’t allow for this style of game. Consequently, the match was littered with errors and stoppages but Racing managed to come through a tight encounter with a late penalty try from a maul to snatch victory.
“He’s obviously a top quality player and the style of rugby they play there will really suit him.” Johnny Sexton (Ireland star/ former Racing player)
The Scottish fly half made the move to the French Giants this year where he will earn approximately £700,000 a year with Racing 92.
Russell has all the tricks of the trade and at Racing 92, he has a formidable pack to play behind – this spells huge trouble for Ulster.
Racing have given him a license to play and with seasoned internationals Teddy Thomas and Simon Zebo joining him in the backline, he will be more than capable of finding holes in the Ulster defence.
The Fijian second row has been outstanding for Racing 92 in his short spell at the club. He was shortlisted for the European Player of the year in 2018.
Perhaps more important than his 1m 98 frame are his superb ball skills and special awareness he has learned through sevens rugby. He has been dubbed the “offload master” with an ability to attract defenders onto himself then offload to his teammate in space.
Quite frankly, an in-form Nakarawa is a frightening prospect for the Ulster defence.
I stressed the task for Addison last week taking on Manu Tuilagi – he came through with flying colours. It was his first outing at centre for Ulster and he impressed with a classy performance culminating in a try.
Ulster will need another big performance from the new recruit if they are going to compete this weekend.
Martin Moore has been starved of game time since his arrival from Wasps this season. The prop was brought on early last week due to injury and he impressed enough to be awarded a start in Round 2.
This is a massive game for Moore as if Ulster have any chance of getting any kind of result, their scrum must hold up against the power of the French pack.
The match will be played on 4G and indoors. Obviously, this means that weather will play no part, so there will be no wind advantage for easy territorial gains and points. Furthermore, despite training 4G, the intensity of the match is a different level and Ulster don’t have the experience playing on 4G that Racing 92 have.
Despite being quality players in their own right, the Ulster replacements are young and inexperienced at Champion’s Cup level so it’s unlikely Ulster will finish strong. If the French side can start well and maintain their discipline I expect a ruthless display and a heavy Ulster defeat.