Paterson: Ulster clash is pivotal

Edinburgh full-back says team must conquer poor away form to progress
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Scotland's Chris Paterson believes an Edinburgh victory over Ulster in the Heineken Cup tonight would be "like gold dust".

The tournament resumes with only the runaway Pool Two leaders Biarritz confident of securing a quarter-final place. Events during the next two weekends will determine this season's line-up for the first knockout round, and Edinburgh remain in contention.

Their last-eight hopes, though, rest on them not only winning in Belfast tomorrow, but then beating Pool Four leading side Stade Français at Murrayfield on Saturday week.

Paterson said: "Make no mistake about it, there is still a lot to play for. For perhaps the first time I can recall since I started playing in the Heineken Cup, we are coming up to weekend number five and you still cannot tell with any degree of certainty just how the group is going to finish.

"Stade have put themselves in pole position with one more win than ourselves and Ulster but, so far, there is no real winner or loser in our group. Sometimes, after just a couple of rounds, sides can see they are already on the way out, but this pool is finely balanced. We know we have performed poorly away from home, so we need to sort that out, and an away win on Friday would be like gold dust."

If Edinburgh or Ulster fail to dislodge Stade from top spot, there is still the incentive of a possible place in the Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-finals.

The third, fourth and fifth best Heineken pool runners-up this term will enter the Challenge Cup knockout equation, which offers an outside chance for Pool Two contenders Glasgow and Newport Gwent Dragons, who meet at Firhill tonight.

Both teams are 13 points behind Biarritz, having lost three group games, but current domestic form should give Magners League leaders Glasgow an edge.

"Although we have a good record against them, the fact they are riding high at the top of the league and the fact they've made Firhill a bit of a fortress means this definitely won't be an easy game," said the Dragons head coach Paul Turner.

In the Challenge Cup tonight, Newcastle continue their campaign to reach the quarter-finals when they visit French side Albi.

The Falcons have a three-point advantage over Montauban in Pool Five, so victories today – over a team they beat 45-3 at Kingston Park in October – and against Italian strugglers Petrarca next week would see them march on.

The Newcastle coach, Steve Bates, has made six changes from the team that toppled Wasps last time out, including a first Falcons start at tight-head prop for hooker Matt Thompson.

Elsewhere, rib injuries sideline prop Jon Golding and wing Charlie Amesbury, while Mark Sorenson replaces lock James Hudson and Micky Young returns at scrum-half after recovering from a calf muscle problem.

"This is a very important game for us to win," said Bates. "We are certainly not taking them lightly, despite the nature of the result when we beat them at Kingston Park, because playing a French team over in France is always a very different proposition.

"The main thing for us is just to focus on ourselves, continue the momentum we generated down at Wasps and aim for the same sort of dominance as we look to develop our game."

Also in Challenge Cup action tonight are Connacht, who will win Pool Two a week inside the distance if they beat Montpellier and prevent their French opponents from collecting a losing bonus point.