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Sale Sharks welcome Ulster Rugby in the Heineken Champions Cup on Sunday as two sides who have enjoyed strong starts to their respective domestic seasons go head-to-head.
Sale are second in the Gallagher Premiership, winning seven of their first nine games, while Ulster are fourth in the United Rugby Championship (URC) after picking up six wins from eight.
Both teams progressed to the knockout stages of last season’s Heineken Champions Cup, with Sale losing to Racing 92 in the quarter-finals and Ulster slipping to a gut-wrenching aggregate defeat to Stade Toulousain in the Round of 16.
Sale are still chasing their first Heineken Champions Cup semi-final, while Ulster lifted EPCR’s major honour in 1999 and reached the final in 2012.
The Pool B encounter at AJ Bell Stadium gets underway at 13:00 (UK & Irish time) and is available to watch on BT Sport, beIN SPORTS, SuperSport and FloRugby.
Sale Sharks and defending champions Stade Rochelais stand between @UlsterRugby and the Round of 16 🔥
How far can The Ulstermen go in the 2022/23 #HeinekenChampionsCup?
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) December 6, 2022
George Ford (Sale Sharks fly-half): “I think it’s probably the most hotly contested tournament you can play in. You’re playing against all the top teams in Europe and every game you play in, from the group stage. And if you’re lucky enough to make it through the group stage, the knockout stages are probably the closest to Test level you can come to.”
Ian Madigan (Ulster Rugby back): “You arrive in on the Monday of a Heineken Champions Cup week and there’s a different smell about the place. You walk out onto the training pitch, you see the European balls, you’re in different kit. The attention to detail goes up, your recovery improves. It’s just a different energy.”
- Sale Sharks accumulated more yellow cards last season than any other club, having players sin-binned six times in total.
- Sale achieved the highest rate of gainline success in last season’s Heineken Champions Cup, getting over the advantage line with 66% of their carries.
- Sale made more dominant tackle contacts in last season’s Heineken Champions Cup than any other team, finishing on 44 in total – 7% of their tackles.
- Full back Mike Lowry made more metres with ball in hand than any other player last season, 662 in total. He also beat the most defenders (30).
- John Cooney launched the most aerial bombs in the tournament last season, putting up a total of 20 high kicks. He also made the most box kicks of any player (49).
- Ulster – contrary to their domestic performances – missed the highest number of tackles in the Heineken Champions Cup last season, slipping off 136 in total.
- Accurate and clever when putting boot to ball, Ulster had more kicks that were retained than any other club in the 2021/22 competition, finding a teammate 31 times in total.
- Marty Moore is in line to make his 50th tournament appearance on Sunday.
Match Centre - Preview - Lineups
Sale Sharks began their Heineken Champions Cup campaign with a dominant 39-0 win over Ulster Rugby at AJ Bell Stadium on Sunday.
Tom Curry, Dan du Preez, Thomas Curtis, Byron McGuigan and Arron Reed were amongst the tries for the rampaging hosts, with Robert du Preez also getting over as well as contributing nine points from the tee.
It was an uncharacteristically lacklustre performance from Ulster, who offered little threat in Salford and drew a blank in a Heineken Champions Cup match for the first time.
After a cagey start, Sale took charge of proceedings – flanker Curry dotted down with a quarter of an hour played after a smart one-handed offload from fly-half Robert du Preez released wing Reed.
And moments after the hosts’ hooker Akker van der Merwe was denied a score following a TMO review, they powered over for a second try through Dan du Preez on 21 minutes, scrum-half Fergus Warr the creator with a quickly-taken penalty.
A Robert du Preez penalty extended Sale’s lead on 27 minutes as they continued to control the game, and their pressure saw Ulster No.8 Duane Vermeulen sin-binned for an offence close to his own line on half an hour.
Simply beautiful rugby! 😍
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) December 11, 2022
Ulster defended resolutely after going down to 14 men, preventing Sale from adding any further points as they battled their way to half-time.
However, Sale’s firm grip on the game continued following the restart, and despite Ulster returning to their full complement, Robert du Preez added a third try for the home side after a stroke of fortune saw an attempted offload land back in his hands after deflecting off a defender.
After a number of fruitless visits to the Ulster 22, Sale secured the bonus point on 65 minutes as a slick move off a scrum saw replacement back Curtis hit a flat line and dive over under the posts.
And there was time for two more scores as Ulster’s defence began to splinter, replacement back McGuigan first profiting from a poorly executed quick lineout from the away side before wing Reed rounded things by finishing a superb team move in the corner.
Ulster will look to bounce back in Round 2 on Saturday as they welcome last season’s champions Stade Rochelais to Kingspan Stadium, with Sale playing a week today as they visit five-time winners Stade Toulousain.