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Ulster must start strong to have any chance of upsetting Racing 92 in the Heineken Champions Cup on Saturday, according to scrum-half John Cooney.
Back-to-back wins over Scarlets before Christmas means Ulster sit second in Pool 4, five points behind Racing 92, and they go into Saturday's match knowing that victory would boost their hopes of qualifying for the knockout stages as one the three best-placed runners up.
While they suffered inter-provincial defeats in recent weeks, Ulster have enjoyed European success over French teams in the past, most recently when they thrashed Toulouse 37-0 in December 2015, and the team are drawing inspiration from that victory.
“It’s important for us to start well, though. Something that we haven’t done that well this season because we know, that in the last 20-40 minutes all season, we have been really powerful and strong," Cooney is quoted as saying in the Irish Examiner.
“There was a picture that Dan (McFarland, head coach) showed us where Ulster had started against Toulouse with a huge tempo for the first 15 minutes and they were bent over tired and Ulster players were standing up strong.
"That was quite similar against La Rochelle last season, when we started with that tempo and they struggled a little on in the game. It all adds up.
“It’s important that we do that this week, and move the point of contact and play those wide edges. I think it is where we have a bit of an opportunity. It’s easier said than done, though. A lot of teams think that if they move these big French teams around that they’re going to dominate them and win.
“A lot of the time that doesn’t work, because either they don’t stick to the gameplan, or they get a bit of a shock at how good some of these French teams are.
“I think it’s important we look after the ball, and we don’t let them get those turnover opportunities. That’s where you grind them down, whereas if some teams assume that once they move the ball to the width they’re going to beat these French teams. I think it’s important we implement our gameplan and stick to it.”
Ulster host Racing 92 in the Heineken Champions Cup at Kingspan Stadium on Saturday, 12 January live on BT Sport 3 [kick-off 3.15pm]. Subscribe here
Image: Inpho Photography/Billy Stickland