Ulster's Henderson 'relishing' fight for Champions Cup last eight


Paris (AFP)

Experienced Ireland second-row Iain Henderson says Ulster are relishing the chance to reach the European Champions Cup quarter-finals this weekend despite competition from five other teams for the remaining three spots.

The Irish province sit second in Pool 3 on 17 points and a victory in Belfast over Bath, a side they have never lost to, on Saturday would clinch a last eight place for the second straight year.

European champions Saracens, Northampton and Gloucester, who all have 14 points ahead of the final round of group games, as well as Glasgow Warriors on 12 and Munster on 11 have a chance of reaching the knock-outs.

"A lot of the boys who played in the quarter-final last year absolutely loved it and we relish the opportunity to do it again and try to progress," 53-time international Henderson said.

"To make it out of the Pool stages would be a massive statement by this group and all we have been working towards. Anything other than play-off rugby is not good for us," the 27-year-old added.

Three French clubs in Racing 92, Toulouse, Clermont, four-time winners Leinster and Exeter Chiefs have already guaranteed their progress but are eyeing one of the four home ties on the weekend of April 3/4/5.

Clermont have lost just once in nine European quarter-finals held at the Stade Marcel-Michelin since the turn of the century.

Centre Isaia Toeava says already knocked out Harlequins pose a threat to the Top 14 outfit's hopes of hosting a quarter-final.

"It's real dangerous. When you have nothing to lose you can just throw the ball around and run it from everywhere. For us we have everything to lose," he told AFP this week.

Toeava, 34, is expected to lineup outside the in-form George Moala who has scored five times in Europe this campaign, one try behind competition leaders Garry Ringrose and Teddy Thomas.

"He's playing some good footy at the moment. He has probably been the best player for us this season," Toeava said.

"I'm just happy he's on our team and we're not playing against him."

- Russell's Glasgow favour -

Racing's Finn Russell says he remains wary of welcoming a team to Paris after March's loss to Toulouse at the same stage.

"It's a massive advantage at home but as we saw last year Toulouse got a red card early on in that game and we still didn't manage to beat them," the Scotland fly-half told AFP on Tuesday.

A French victory at Sarries on Sunday would boost the hopes of Russell's former club Glasgow, who travel to Sale in Pool 2, of reaching the next stage.

"If they get a win this weekend they have a high chance of qualifying depending on other results. I'm sure I'll have a few Glasgow boys asking for us to do a job on them so they can try and qualify," he said.

Elsewhere in Pool 4 Munster face the Ospreys at Thomond Park, Northampton travel to Lyon in Pool 1 and Gloucester head to Top 14 champions Toulouse in Pool 5 for spots in the next round.