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Page last updated at 15:37 GMT, Monday, 7 December 2009

Ulster face Stade challenge

By Richard Petrie

Stade Francais
Stade Francais in the colourful shirts they wore at Ravenhill last year

Ulster come up against familiar Heineken Cup opponents Stade Francais in a make-or-break Pool Four European double-header in the coming weeks.

Ravenhill is the venue for the first clash between the teams on 12 December, with the sides meeting again in Paris a week later.

Matches between the two have produced some of the most memorable moments enjoyed by the Ravenhill faithful in the past decade.

Not least among those is the famous semi-final win in 1999, which featured David Humphreys' outstanding solo effort, the most renowned try in Ulster's recent history.

"David really inspired the victory that day - and it his chip and chase into the corner that has stuck in everyone's mind," said BBC Radio Ulster pundit Maurice Field.

"Ulster raised their performance that day and that is what they need to do again after the disappointing Magners League defeat by Glasgow last Friday," he added.

The French sides are always tough to beat on their own patch but a win in Belfast would give Ulster a real confidence boost

BBC Radio Ulster pundit Maurice Field

The sides' regular meetings in recent seasons make the French giants almost as familiar foes as the Irish provinces for Ulster and the men in white will be keen to avenge their defeat in the opening fixture of last year's competition.

That reverse brought to an end a record of four consecutive home successes for the Ulstermen against the fancied French outfit, although it was the predominantly pink fluorescent shirts worn by the visiting side which grabbed as many headlines as their performance last October.

"The French are renowned for their Gallic flair so you always expect them to come up with something different, and they certainly made a big impression with that kit.

"You never know what kind of mentality French sides will travel with however and if Ulster up the ante and defend aggressively, you don't know how their opponents will react," said Field.

It has been a different story for Ulster away from home as Stade have tasted success on each of the four occasions the sides have met on French soil.

"The French sides are always tough to beat on their own patch but a win in Belfast would give Ulster a real confidence boost for the trip to Paris and it may give them the belief they need to go there and win," argued the former Ulster centre.

Willie Faloon
Willie Fallon celebrates after Ulster's win over Bath

Stade have failed to progress from their group in three of the last four years and will be keen to make amends for that barren spell.

They have started this year's campaign well, with two wins from two games, while Ulster's defeat by Edinburgh in the second series of matches makes qualification for the last eight something of an uphill struggle.

Coach Brian McLaughlin has praised the influence of the Ravenhill crowd and his fired-up fledglings will be keen to repeat the form which accounted for Bath in Ulster's first home Heineken Cup game of this season.

"I believe the Stade wage bill amounts to around 21 million euros and that is a lot of money to invest in a team that has come away with nothing in terms of progressing in European competition in recent years.

"The Ulster crowd will get behind their team if they see them putting in a fighting performance like the one they produced against Bath.

"The supporters respond if they see the team putting in an honest effort but if they see an inept, indifferent display, as was the case against Glasgow, then they will vote with their feet.

"Stade have top quality players throughout their side and Ulster will have to win much more of their own lineout ball and reduce the number of penalties they concede if they're to come away with a victory," concluded Field.

You can listen to live coverage of Ulster v Stade Francais in the Heineken Cup on Saturday 12 December from 1.15pm on BBC Radio Ulster MW.

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see also
Ulster photos
17 Oct 09 |  Irish
Edinburgh 17-13 Ulster
17 Oct 09 |  Rugby Union
Ulster 26-12 Bath
09 Oct 09 |  Rugby Union
Field and Constable on Ulster
31 Aug 09 |  Irish
Stade Francais 24-19 Ulster
24 Jan 09 |  Rugby Union
Ulster 10-26 Stade Francais
11 Oct 08 |  Rugby Union

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