Match Preview: US Oyonnax vs. Ulster Rugby

championscupLast week we were impressed with our performance in Limerick, this week we have an away win to be proud of!

It was a fantastic defensive effort on our behalf to hold out the Dragons at the end and, while the win may not have been overly attractive but it was efficient, and at the final whistle we stood on the right side of the scoreline and took our first away win of the season from one of the league’s most hostile away venues.

And at the right time too because this week we find ourselves on the road again, this time at the lesser known venue of the Stade Charles Mathon to take on the unknown entity that is Oyonnax. Had we travelled to the Alpine town without an away victory to our name then this could have been an awkward trip for us, but now with that precious win on our travels under our belts there is a bit more optimism in the squad.

What do we know about Oyonnax? Precious little.

They have an old friend in their ranks in Pedrie Wannenburg, while they also have a few recognisable names from past encounters such as Stanley Wright (Leinster), Soane Tonga’uiha (Northampton Saints) and Horatiu Pungea (Scarlets). And of course, you cannot overlook the mouthwatering scrum-half battle that is in the offing between Piri Weepu and Ruan Pienaar.

In typical French fashion, they are also very good at home on their familiar 3G pitch – despite occupying one of the relegation zones in the Top14, so far this season they have won two of their four home games (against Bordeaux-Begles and Section Paloise) and there will be an extra sense of excitement around their first European home match in the club’s history. They will be out to cause an upset, no doubt.

This is Oyonnax’s debut in the Champions’ Cup, becoming the 20th French side to play in the competition and the 62nd club overall to feature. Meanwhile we are one of just four sides to have featured in every Champions’ Cup campaign since its conception (along with pool contenders Toulouse and interprovincial cousins Leinster and Munster), so there is a clear gulf in competition experience.

We have won six of our last nine meetings with French opposition, two of which were away from home (Castres Olympique and Montpellier Herault), however our last two games against French opponents we were beaten by a combined points difference of 48 – our two defeats to Toulon in last season’s Champions’ Cup pool stages.

But we have a point to prove coming off our worst performance in the Champions’ Cup since the 2008/09 campaign as we only won two matches in last season’s tournament. And a bit of a quirky fact for you too – last season we had the worst kick success rate in the whole tournament with only 52% of our efforts on goal actually going over.

Another year of European rugby – how will this one go? Nobody knows. Will the French grip on the trophy finally be loosened? Will we have a chance at winning the tournament? Will we even make it out of the pool? If we stand a chance then winning tomorrow is a necessity, that’s for sure, and then from there we can take a look at Saracens next week. But for now we head to France with just one goal in mind: four points.

So here we go, quite literally into the unknown.

The teams

There are five changes for Oyonnax’s stand in coaching staff from last week’s defeat to La Rochelle, including the demotion of All Black Piri Weepu to the replacements. Fabien Cibray replaces him at scrum-half and he has a new fly-half partner too in Regis Lespinas who takes the place of former Cardiff man Nicky Robinson. The two wings also change with Silvere Tian and Fetu’u Vainikolo preferred to Daniel Ikpefan and Alaska Taufa. There is one change in the forwards as loosehead prop Laurent Delboulbès starts instead of Stanley Wright. Full-back Florian Denos is handed the captaincy over club captain Olivier Missoup while former Ulsterman Pedrie Wannenburg is among the replacements.

Seven changes for us from last week’s win over the Dragons, four in the backs and three in the forwards. Luke Marshall is back from injury to replace the injured Stuart McCloskey at inside centre, the two wings change once more with Rory Scholes and Sammy Arnold dropping out and Craig Gilroy and Andrew Trimble replacing them, while at scrum-half there is a first start of the season for Ruan Pienaar. Up front Ricky Lutton is preferred to Wiehahn Herbst at tighthead prop, while captain Rory Best is promoted from the bench to the starting line up over Rob Herring. The final change sees Nick Williams return to number eight in place of Stephen Mulholland.

 

US Oyonnax vs. Ulster Rugby

Saturday 14th November, 13:00

Stade Charles Mathon

European Rugby Champions’ Cup – Pool Match 1

 

Live on Sky Sports 2

 

US OYONNAX

15. Florian Denos (capt.), 14. Silvere Tian, 13. Vincent Martin, 12. Eamonn Sheridan, 11. Fetu’u Vainikolo, 10. Regis Lespinas, 9. Fabien Cibray; 1. Laurent Delboulbès, 2. Jody Jenneker, 3. Marc Clerc, 4. George Robson, 5. Fabrice Metz, 6. Valentin Ursache, 7. Olivier Missoup, 8. Viliami Ma’afu.

Subs not used: 16. Jeremie Maurouard, 17. Soane Tonga’uiha, 18. Antoine Guillamon, 19. Leon Power, 20. Pierrick Gunther, 21. Pedrie Wannenburg, 22. Piri Weepu, 23. Nicky Robinson.

ULSTER RUGBY

15. Peter Nelson, 14. Andrew Trimble, 13. Darren Cave, 12. Luke Marshall, 11. Craig Gilroy, 10. Paddy Jackson, 9. Ruan Pienaar; 1. Kyle McCall, 2. Rory Best (capt.), 3. Ricky Lutton, 4. Dan Tuohy, 5. Franco van der Merwe, 6. Robbie Diack, 7. Chris Henry, 8. Nick Williams.

Subs not used: 16. Rob Herring, 17. Callum Black, 18. Wiehahn Herbst, 19. Lewis Stevenson, 20. Sean Reidy, 21. Dave Shanahan, 22. Ian Humphreys, 23. Louis Ludik.

 

Referee: Luke Pearce (RFU)

Assistant Referees: Darren Gamage, Robin Goodliffe (both RFU)

Fourth Official: Thomas Chereque (FFR)

TMO: Trevor Fisher (Eng)

Citing Commissioner: Ray Wilton (WRU)