Heineken Cup: Saracens v Ulster match preview

A look ahead to Saturday's quarter-final clash

Aviva Premiership leaders Saracens host last year’s beaten finalists Ulster in a hotly anticipated clash at Twickenham on Saturday evening, with the home side looking to match their previous best in the Heineken Cup following their 2008 semi-final loss to Munster.

Ulster started the season in dominating form, going on a streak of 12 wins before they hit a rough patch in form. Having lost three in four, it was a welcome return to winning ways with the narrow 18-22 victory over Leinster last week - their first win in at the RDS Arena in 14 years.

Saracens come into the game in good form with four wins on the bounce, having beaten Harlequins comprehensively before scoring 22 unanswered points against London Wasps, having been 13-0 down last week. The newly-based Barnet outfit went out at this point last year to a rampant Clermont Auvergne side, and they will not want a repeat of that performance as they look for a way to get their talented squad firing in Europe.

Despite playing at home in seven different grounds this season, Sarries have not lost at any of them, and it's their home form that gives them the confidence they can knock-out a former Cup winner in the shape of the 1999 champions Ulster.

On that day, David Humphreys and Mark McCall lifted the trophy, but they will line up on opposite sides as head coaches for Ulster and Saracens respectively.

Having burst onto the International scene during the Six Nations, Mako Vunipola has been in scintillating form since his return from the England camp and even getting on the score-sheet more than once. The recent performances of flanker Will Fraser have also been catching the eye, and he will want to continue his purple patch as he looks set to earn his first England cap on the summer tour to Argentina.

With the ever-reliant boot of Owen Farrell - and his meticulous approach to the big-stage games - Saracens will look to kick their way to a commanding lead while ensuring their resolute 'wolf pack' defence keeps Ulster away from their try-line, before they open up and look to play the expansive play that we have seen in the last few weeks.

Ulster meanwhile have been boosted by the news that wing Tommy Bowe has returned to fitness a month ahead of schedule, and he will feature from the bench as he looks to quickly recapture the form that saw him become one of the most clinical finishers in the Northern Hemisphere. Lock Johann Muller continues his comeback from injury, and he'll be needed in an Ulster line-out that has faltered in this year's campaign - a 74% success rate compared to Saracens' 94%.

Prop John Afoa is back after returning to New Zealand for the birth of his daughter last week, and Luke Marshall returns to centre in place of Stuart Olding. Long-term absentee Stephen Ferris will miss the game, though there is good news in the pack as Dan Tuohy has recovered from a back spasm suffered on Tuesday.

 

Saracens: Alex Goode; Chris Ashton, Joel Tomkins, Brad Barritt, David Strettle; Owen Farrell, Richard Wigglesworth; Mako Vunipola, Schalk Brits, Matt Stevens; Steve Borthwick, Alistair Hargreaves; Kelly Brown, Will Fraser, Ernst Joubert.

Replacements: John Smit, Rhys Gill, Petrus du Plessis, Mouritz Botha, Jackson Wray, Neil de Kock, Charlie Hodgson, Chris Wyles.

 

Ulster: Jared Payne; Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, Luke Marshall, Craig Gilroy; Paddy Jackson, Ruan Pienaar; Tom Court, Rory Best, John Afoa; Johann Muller, Dan Tuohy; Iain Henderson, Chris Henry, Nick Williams.

Replacements: Rob Herring, Callum Black, Ricky Lutton, Robbie Diack, Roger Wilson, Paul Marshall, Stuart Olding, Tommy Bowe.

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