Had there been no television cameras to record the try Ulster did not score as this fractious contest moved into stoppage time, the visitors would now be piling money on themselves to secure an unexpected place in the knock-out phase of the Heineken Cup. Confused? Welcome to the wild and wacky world of the video-refereeing regulations, which are so open to misinterpretation that the Master of the Rolls would abandon all hope of understanding them and head for the pub instead. If an official as accomplished as Joel Jutge can make a Horlicks of it, what hope is there for the rest of us?
Five points adrift at the end of an encounter that generated more heat than light in respect of both sets of combatants, Ulster suddenly found a means of sending the dangerous Tommy Bowe haring down the left wing into the Saracens 22. As Dan Scarbrough wrapped himself around Bowe in a last-ditch attempt to prevent the score, the wing flicked the ball inside to Kevin Maggs, who promptly completed the try. Fifteen apiece with the conversion to come? Lovely.
Er, not quite. Unsure whether Bowe had placed a foot in touch before delivering the final pass, and receiving no help on the subject from his touch-judge, Jutge sought help from "upstairs". This, according to the legislators who know about these things, he should not have done. The replay was as clear as day - Bowe had indeed slid his left foot across the whitewash - but the evidence was inadmissible. Television match officials should pronounce judgement only on issues relating to the act of scoring, not the build-up.
Pedantry? Perhaps. Certainly, the Ulster coach, Mark McCall, had no intention of compromising his own dignity by protesting the injustice of having an illegal try ruled illegal. But the fact remains. Had this fixture not caught the attention of the satellite broadcasters, Ulster might be in the pound seats in terms of qualification from Pool Four. After all, it is difficult to have a television match official without a television.
As it is, Saracens will pose the most significant threat to Biarritz at the top end of the group. A lack of bonus points will probably cost them - they managed only two tries on Saturday, drawing a blank in a second period dominated by their heavyweight pack - but at least they are in the mix. Their older forward heads, Kevin Yates and Simon Raiwalui, are making dents aplenty in the opposition barricades, while their younger generation, Ben T Russell on the open-side flank and the eye-catching Ben Skirving at No 8, have the unmistakable air of quality about them.
Skirving and Yates scored the first-half tries, the former from Ben Johnston's cute grubber kick at the end of an attack beautifully orchestrated by Thomas Castaignède, the latter from a line-out maul. These highlights were separated by Bowe's long-range finish, resulting from Neil McMillan's blocking of Castaignède's attempted drop goal and a high-class pass out of contact from the aggressive Roger Wilson.
It was Wilson who found himself on the painful end of a prod in the eye from Yates, an incident that cost the former England prop 10 minutes in the cooler. Not that the big Saracen felt particularly apologetic. When David Humphreys, whose goal-kicking was scarcely more reliable than that of his opposite number Glen Jackson, found himself on the wrong side of a ruck, it was Yates who dished out the punishment in time-honoured fashion.
Saracens may not be scoring many tries, but they are not losing many fights. As their visit to Biarritz in the middle of next month has win or bust written all over it, the second half of that equation will stand them in good stead.
Saracens: Tries Skirving, Yates; Conversion Jackson; Penalties Jackson 2. Ulster: Try Bowe; Conversion Humphreys; Penalty Humphreys.
Saracens: D Scarbrough (B J Russell, 86); T Vaikona, T Castaignède (M Bartholomeusz, 70), B Johnston, P Bailey; G Jackson, K Bracken (A Dickens, 61); K Yates, S Byrne, C Visagie (B Broster 57), S Raiwalui (D Seymour, 82), K Chesney, H Vyvyan (capt), B T Russell (Broster 25-34), B Skirving (T Randell 63).
Ulster: B Cunningham (J Topping, 71); T Bowe, K Maggs, A Trimble, P Steinmetz; D Humphreys, K Campbell (I Boss, 57); B Young (J Fitzpatrick, 57), R Best (N Brady, 86), S Best (capt), J Harrison, M McCullough, N Best (S Ferris 34, R Caldwell 58), N McMillan, R Wilson.
Referee: J Jutge (France).Reuse content