With a Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final clash with defending champions Leinster Rugby just three weeks away, we take a look at five Ulster Rugby players who could be crucial to their chances in Dublin on March 30.
Stockdale enjoyed a tremendous Pool 4 campaign as Ulster reached the last eight for the first time since 2014. The 22-year-old leads the competition’s try-scoring charts with six alongside Leinster Rugby hooker Sean Cronin, after touching down in each of his opening five matches, including in a Heineken Man of the Match display against Racing 92 in Round 5. The Ireland wing also sits second in the tables for metres carried (423) and clean breaks (13).
The Ireland hooker is one of the few Ulster players left who featured in their 2012 European Cup final defeat by Leinster, so he will be doubly determined to exact revenge this month. The 36-year-old Ulster captain guided his side through a tricky Pool 4 featuring 2018 semi-finalists Scarlets, two-time winners Leicester Tigers and 2018 finalists Racing 92, and his experience will be important as they attempt to dethrone the four-time winners.
Flanker Murphy will know Ulster’s quarter-final opponents better than most, having spent the previous six seasons with Leinster before moving north at the end of last season. He therefore knows what it takes to lift Europe’s greatest prize and will no doubt play a major role in the last eight clash, having featured in all bar 30 minutes of Ulster’s campaign so far, including their stirring comeback victory against Leicester Tigers in Round 6.
ULSTER ARE IN THIS…
The dink through from Billy Burns is marvellous 👏 🔥 pic.twitter.com/yuwCKo18iJ
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) January 19, 2019
It would be fair to say that the 21-year-old wing has had an instant impact on the European stage with Ulster Rugby. Baloucoune was a relative unknown until starting against Racing 92 in Round 5, but then he scored a crucial first–half try to revive the Irish province’s qualification hopes. The young flyer repeated the trick in Round 6, crossing the whitewash as Ulster came from 13-0 down to defeat Leicester Tigers 14-13 at Welford Road.
The 27-year-old lock remains one of Ulster’s prized assets, having featured for Ireland and the British and Irish Lions in recent years. He grabbed a brace of tries in the Irish province’s victory over Scarlets in Round 4 and collected the Heineken Man of the Match prize against Leicester Tigers in Round 6. With 60 carries and 74 tackles this season, he will be expected to make a key contribution in the knockout stages.