Luger leads summit expedition

Click to follow

It was a rocky start, but in the end Saracens left gritty Ulster at the foot of a mountain of points as Dan Luger ran in his second hat-trick of the season and Thomas Castaignÿde kicked a handsome 25 points.

It was a rocky start, but in the end Saracens left gritty Ulster at the foot of a mountain of points as Dan Luger ran in his second hat-trick of the season and Thomas Castaignÿde kicked a handsome 25 points.

But it was not until Ulster, the 1999 European champions, were threatening to take over at the top of Pool Three that Saracens finally mustered their disparate but undeniable individual talent and put together a storming final half-hour which made the game safe.

Once they were up and running, though, they were magnificent. They were trailing 21-25 when they suddenly stepped on the gas and proceeded to run in 34 unopposed points in the final 26 minutes which had Ulster's assistant coach and sometime player, Dion O'Cuinneagain, admitting: "I think Saracens were absolutely superb, especially in the last quarter of an hour."

But the game is a little longer than that, and when the Saracens chief executive, Francois Pienaar, later described their opening 40 minutes as: "Easily the worst first half we have played this season," he was right on the money. They were right off the pace.

The alarm bells had been ringing at Vicarage Road before the kick-off, but for different reasons. Two weeks ago the club received a coded warning that there would be a bomb planted for this match. Security staff gave a thorough sweep, but came up with nothing.

They had not looked in the right place. It was on the pitch that the bombshell was dropped. Fortunately, though, it was more of a stun grenade in the end. Ulster had their eye-catching players. The left wing Tyrone Howe was magnificent, catching the eye of Simon Halliday. The former England centre is one of the Lions selection scouts and with the coach, Graham Henry, and another selector Derek Quinnell in the stand, Howe and the right wing James Topping, as well as fly-half David Humphreys, did their cause no harm.

The rugged Irish side gave little quarter, especially early on. Their defence for the large part held up very well. Saracens' first-half try needed the help of an unstoppable rolling maul from a line-out, Richard Hill lunging through. The England flanker's second try came from an identical set-up - penalty award, kick for the line-out, a Danny Grewcock take, then the drive for the line.

But by then Ulster had scored a try of their own, right at the start of the second half, through the promising centre Shane Stewart, and Castaignÿde's missed conversion of Hill's first try had allowed Ulster to hit back with Humphreys' fourth successful penalty of the half.

That Stewart try, which saw him crash through three tackles was converted by Humphreys, who wrapped up a flawless kicking performance with two more penalties and put his men in the driving seat, at which point they stopped and picked up an unwelcome group of hitch-hikers.

First fly-half Duncan McRae danced fancily through, then a brilliant Castaignÿde break saw Luger latch on to McRae's pass for his first try. His second came courtesy of a perfectly timed inside pass from Grewcock, and number three, another which began in their own half, saw the England wing scorch 80 metres through a disheartened band of Ulstermen for a triumphantinjury-time flourish.

Saracens: Tries Hill 2, McRae, Luger 3; Conversions Castaignÿde 5; Penalties Castaignÿde 5. Ulster: Try Stewart; Conversion Humphreys; Penalties Humphreys 6.

Saracens: T Castaignÿde; D O'Mahony (B Sparg, 70), B Johnston, K Sorrell, D Luger; D McRae, K Bracken (capt; N Walshe, 70); D Flatman (S Phillips, 26-29), R Russell (M Cairns, 70), P Wallace (S Phillips, 78), B Davison, D Grewcock, R Hill, T Diprose, K Chesney,

Ulster: G Henderson; J Topping, R Constable, S Stewart (S Coulter, 82), T Howe; D Humphreys (capt), B Free; J Fitzpatrick, R Weir, S Best (C Boyd, 67), P Johns (M Blair, 41), G Longwell, D Topping (C Mackery, 69), A McWhirter, A Ward.

Referee: C Giacomel (Italy).