Saracens 27 Ulster 16 match report: Chris Ashton finds his old form as Saracens see off Ulster

England wing scores the crucial try for Premier League leaders to reach Heineken Cup semi-final

twickenham

The Premiership's middle order of Gloucester, Wasps and Bath may have been blown away in the Challenge Cup in the past few days, but last night at Twickenham it was the start of the turn of the opening bats in the Heineken Cup, and the league leaders, Saracens, smashed Ulster out of the ground.

Though Saracens had a few difficulties in the scrum they unleashed a crushing domination of the gain-line over the top Irish side in the Pro 12 long before Chris Ashton joyously put his mixed exploits for England of late behind him with his team's second try in the 63rd minute that opened a decisive 18-point gap. It was not quite the beating Ulster suffered at the hands of Leinster in last May's Heineken Cup final here, but it was good enough for Saracens as they made their way through to a second semi-final in the competition.

They will attempt to go one better than their 2008 loss to Munster when they host the winners of today's tie between Toulon and England's second-placed club, Leicester, here again in three weeks' time.

Harlequins, currently third in the Premiership, have their sip of Heineken this afternoon, too, against Munster.

Heavy investment from the South African Cape allows Saracens to carry annual losses of more than £5 million along with the English banner in Europe, enabling their players to go on mid-season trips such as the one to Verbier the week before last. Ulster had their own South African stalwarts, Johann Muller and Ruan Pienaar, on parade, and Tommy Bowe was lurking on the bench for his first appearance since the wing damaged knee ligaments in December – something of interest to the watching Lions coach, Warren Gatland, no doubt.

Meanwhile John Afoa, the tighthead prop, showed no signs of jet lag from a trip in recent days so he could be present at his daughter's birth in New Zealand, sharing in three promising first-half scrums for Ulster: a couple of pressuring nudges on Saracens put-ins were followed in the 31st minute by a penalty for the Red Hand gang when Sarries' England prop Mako Vunipola was spat out of a retreating pack. Pienaar – no relation to the former Springbok captain Francois, who sits on Saracens' board – collected three points for that, as the scrum-half had done on 26 minutes when the ball was killed in front of the hosts' posts.

But the lead at half-time was Saracens', by a handy 16-6, although a dollop of luck played its part. Owen Farrell was selected ahead of Charlie Hodgson at fly-half as a sure indication of the muscular match anticipated by his side's head coach, Mark McCall, who played for Ulster in their 1999 European Cup-winning season.

Farrell kicked penalties after two and 28 minutes, and his England pal Brad Barritt was prominent over the ball while Joel Tomkins further out does what he does, which is run very hard in straight lines. When the officials missed a feathery deflection off Saracens No 8 Ernst Joubert's hand as Ulster attempted to deal with the restart following Pienaar's second penalty, Schalk Brits was able to throw into an attacking Saracens line-out in the 22 to bring the opening try.

A neat move saw Steve Borthwick, who had both knocked on and ripped possession for his team earlier in the half, leap at the tail and divert the ball immediately to the middle for a driving maul. A couple of shoves later, the flanker Will Fraser dived over and Farrell converted before kicking his third penalty to reward another expert snaffle by Barritt.

Ulster were trying to graft some beauty on to the all-pervading brute force. But while Saracens' chairman, Nigel Wray, used his notes inside the match programme to align his club's philosophy with that of the Barcelona football academy in creating "good people", the front cover simply carried a photo of a wolf: one of a pair invited to a team meeting recently. It was an unsubtle emblem of the pack mentality Sarries bring to their defence. The peripatetic wanderers who are unbeaten at a variety of home grounds this season are now going in for lycanthropy.

A blocking offence by Ulster ruined their first chance of the second half and instead the next score went to Saracens, a simple fourth penalty for Farrell, the England fly-half to whom Twickenham is comfortably familiar, after a maul offence. Pienaar quickly struck back, Farrell did likewise before Ashton's emphatic, match-settling score.

Alex Goode's scuttling run breached Ulster's first line of cover, and Barritt dummied one way before feeding a no doubt bellowing Ashton on his inside. The effervescent Wiganer ran round Paddy Jackson and Bowe, who had just come on, to finish with his trademark leap over the line. A spectacular jumping catch by Brits brought the hooker a bang that had him limp off, but apart from a late try for Iain Henderson, converted by Pienaar, little else went wrong for Saracens.

Saracens A Goode; C Ashton, J Tomkins (C Hodgson, 73), B Barritt, D Strettle (C Wyles, 65); O Farrell, R Wigglesworth (N de Kock, 51); M Vunipola (R Gill, 57), S Brits (J Smit, 59), M Stevens (P du Plessis, 76), S Borthwick (capt), A Hargreaves (M Botha, 57), K Brown, E Joubert, W Fraser (J Wray, 73).

Ulster J Payne; A Trimble, D Cave (T Bowe, 58), L Marshall (S Olding, 68), C Gilroy; P Jackson, R Pienaar; T Court (C Black, 73), R Best, J Afoa, J Muller (capt; R Diack, 64), D Tuohy, I Henderson, N Williams, C Henry.

Referee R Poite (France).

Saracens

Tries: Fraser, Ashton

Con: Farrell

Pens: Farrell 5

Ulster

Try: Henderson

Con: Pienaar

Pens: Pienaar 3

Voices
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Sport
Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
News
i100
Travel
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Arts and Entertainment
Jennifer Saunders stars as Miss Windsor, Dennis's hysterical French teacher
filmJennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Voices
Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained on an aircraft by G4S escorts
voicesJonathan Cox: Tragedy of Jimmy Mubenga highlights lack of dignity shown to migrants
Life and Style
Sebastian Siemiatkowski is the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of Klarna, which provides a simple way for people to buy things online
tech
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum