European Champions Cup: 'We'll go after it hard' - Ulster coach McFarland on Bath opener

Michael Lowry and Billy Burns celebrate beating Leicester Tigers at Welford Road last season
Michael Lowry and Billy Burns celebrate beating Leicester Tigers at Welford Road last season
Champions Cup: Bath v Ulster
Venue: The Recreation Ground Date: Saturday, 16 November Kick-off: 13:00 GMT
Coverage: Live commentary on BBC Radio Ulster and the BBC Sport website; match report on the BBC Sport website

Ulster coach Dan McFarland says his side will "go after it hard" in Saturday's Champions Cup Pool 3 opener against Bath at The Recreation Ground.

The Irish province won five of their six pool matches last season to progress to the quarter-finals as group runners-up, before losing to Leinster.

"I felt the side played its best rugby in the Champions Cup last year so we aim to do that again," said McFarland.

"You need to be on top of your game as you're facing quality opposition."

After finishing second behind Racing 92 in their pool last term, Ulster were agonisingly edged out 21-18 by Leinster in a fiercely contested Irish interprovincial last-eight tie at the Aviva Stadium in March.

"We played a brilliant quarter-final against Leinster but ultimately came up short," recalled McFarland.

"We were fortunate to have a pretty settled side in the Champions Cup last year and that was important. A lot of that comes down to luck, whether you get injuries or not.

"The goal is firstly to get out of the pool but that will be tough. It doesn't matter which teams you play in the Champions Cup as you are always coming up against quality."

Jacob Stockdale and Ulster team-mates show their disappointment after losing to Leinster in last year's Champions Cup quarter-final
Jacob Stockdale and Ulster team-mates show their disappointment after losing to Leinster in last year's Champions Cup quarter-final

After travelling to face Bath, Ulster will have home advantage on 22 November against Clermont Auvergne, who return to Europe's premier club competition after a one-year absence.

That is followed by a double-header home and away to Harlequins on 7 and 13 December, then an away trip to Clermont, and finally Bath at Kingspan Stadium in January.

Bath lie ninth in the English Premiership after four rounds of matches, with Harlequins 10th, while Clermont sit sixth in the French Top 14 after nine games. Ulster have won four and lost two of their opening six Pro14 outings.

"It's difficult to assess Bath and Harlequins this year because they haven't played that many games and their World Cup stars have been away," explained McFarland, who led Ulster to a first quarter-final appearance since 2014 in his first campaign in charge.

"Bath are a team packed full of quality players though and I know from my own time playing in England how difficult it can be there. Any win away from home in the Champions Cup has to be hard earned."

Analysis

Former Ulster fly-half Ian Humphreys on BBC Radio Ulster: "It's a big bonus for Ulster that they only had Iain Henderson and Jacob Stockdale at the World Cup. I'm massively confident they can make it through the pool.

"They have been able to put all their plays, all their patterns, together as a group while Bath have five or six players coming back from the World Cup and that will take some adjustment.

"The back-to-back fixtures against Harlequins will be crucial but Ulster will fancy their chances as they have done well over the years against Harlequins, who can be very hit and miss. They aren't the team they were a few years ago."

Ex-Ulster scrum-half Paul Marshall on BBC Radio Ulster: "Bath's World Cup players will be thrown straight back in without much of a break while Ulster will be happy that everyone has had a bit of game-time bar Iain Henderson.

"We know how good he is - he'll captain the side, come in and put in a good performance. Ulster can be quietly confident."