Leicester strong as usual but Ulster provide serious competition

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Leicester’s inspired comeback against rivals Northampton typified everything good about the Tigers this year as a trip to Ulster for their Heineken Cup opener looms.

With Northampton leading 19-9 with just ten minutes to play, Toby Flood kicked for three points before a well-worked line out almost saw the fly-half break through the Saints’ defensive line. The move was not in vain, however, as flanker Ed Slater eventually managed to power over the line. Flood converted and levelled the scores with barely anytime left on the clock.

The performance from Flood was one that will have certain caught the attention of England head coach Stuart Lancaster, but more will be required from the rest of the team, who were under the cosh for long periods against Northampton, if they are to win perhaps the most open pool in the Heineken Cup this year.

Leicester are evens favourites to win Pool 5, but face serious competition from Ulster, 5/4, Montpellier,11/2 and even 100/1 Treviso could have a say in who progresses to the next round.
Ulster endured a slow start to this year’s RaboDirect Pro12 with narrow losses to Newport Dragons and Glasgow Warriors but have since gone on to defeat Connacht, Treviso and Ospreys, leaving them fourth in the league.

That win against Ospreys, who topped the table going into the game, was an excellent performance in which they overturned a 12-point deficit to win 18-12. As they have done for the majority of this season, Ulster’s forwards performed brilliantly, allowing Paddy Jackson to kick the points – the prodigious fly-half will be crucial if they are to overcome Leicester.

While many might see this pool as a straight battle between Leicester and Ulster, it is impossible to rule out Montpellier who currently lead the way in the Top 14. Perhaps their most impressive performance of the season so far was a 43-3 demolition of Clermont at home. Fabien Galthie’s men played exciting, expansive rugby with scrum-half Jonathan Pelisse scoring 31 points, including two tries.

They face Treviso in their opener, who have struggled so far domestically and currently sit ninth in the RaboDirect Pro12. However, a 23-3 victory over Connacht last time suggested a return to form and winger Ludovico Nitoglia has been his usual dangerous self, notching three times already this season.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.

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