Ulster Rugby captain Rory Best has described the losses of Tommy Bowe, Jared Payne and Iain Henderson as “massive” ahead of Ulster’s Pool 1 opener away to French side Oyonnax.
Ulster head to the French alps to take on Champions Cup newcomers Oyonnax, but the Ulstermen will be without Irish trio Bowe (knee), Payne (foot) and Henderson (hand) as they continue to recover from their respective injuries.
All three have been sidelined since last month’s Rugby World Cup and Best feels that their absence will test Ulster’s depth to its full extent.
“Injuries have had a big impact on us and we’re missing some key players in Tommy, Jared and Hendo,” said Best.
“They are a massive loss to any team but the boys who have stepped in from the start of the season have done a great job. That’s why this season’s tournament is going to be a bigger test of the strength of our squad than ever before.”
Ulster have won two out of their last three games but will be desperate to improve on last season’s Champions Cup campaign where they won just two out of six games.
Fly-half Paddy Jackson is desperate to improve on last season’s dismal showing in Europe and believes that his side will take great confidence from last weekend’s win over Newport Gwent Dragons.
“It is difficult to play at Rodney Parade at the best of times, I have lost there a few times in the past and it was especially hard as a young side going there,” Jackson told the club’s website.
“The crowd is on your back and the conditions are tough so I made sure the new young guys were aware of that. Going in at half time at 9-6 wasn’t the worst thing, we knew it was going to be a close game. We were able to get the first try and fair play to them, they are a very tough side to beat at home and we fully expected it to be a tight game.”
“I am massively excited, Europe always has that added X-factor to it, we are chomping at the bit to get at Oyonnax. We didn’t do too well in Europe last year so it is a big goal for us to start well.”
Ulster are currently fifth in the PRO12 league and will be looking to be the first Irish team to post a win in Europe this season.