As any poor bloody infantryman from the English Premiership or the French Championnat will readily confirm, Ravenhill at its best and Ravenhill at its worst are one and the same thing. Take last night as an example. Rain on the wind, soaking turf underfoot, a raucous gathering of Belfast's finest sardined into the stands along the length of the famous old ground and a shamelessly jurassic up-and-under approach from the Ulstermen. Horrible. Wonderfully horrible.
Saracens were the last side to win a Heineken Cup game here - 21-13 a little under five years ago. Ulster are nothing if not physical - rather, they are nothing but physical with their scavenging loose forwards and their boot-to-ball strategy.
Wisely, Saracens armed themselves with the biggest pack available to them and started well enough, Simon Raiwalui hoovering up a loose Ulster ball close to the line and making enough of a dent in the barricades to give Glen Jackson a run at the sticks. The New Zealander duly broke Andrew Trimble's tackle to complete the try, then added the extras from in front. All this happened in the 14th minute. It took the Saracens almost an hour to trouble the scorers again, and David Humphreys kicked penalties either side of the interval and put the ball in front of his forwards often enough to launch a siege.
Later, when Ulster spun a turnover ball right, Thomas Castaignède intervened from an offside position and went to the sin-bin, as Humphreys collected the three points. From then on there was unmitigated woe for Saracens, with Matt Cairns soon joining Castaignède in the cooler. Inevitably, Humphreys landed the points to give Ulster the lead, and when Paul Bailey then coughed up the ball to Rory Best, the hooker wrapped it up with a traditional front-rower's try. Horrible? Yes, and then some.
Ulster: Try R Best; Conversion Humphreys; Penalties Humphreys 4. Saracens: Try Jackson; Conversion Jackson; Penalty Jackson.
Ulster: B Cunningham; T Bowe, K Maggs, A Trimble, P Steinmetz; D Humphreys, K Campbell (I Boss 73); B Young, R Best, S Best (capt), J Harrison (R Caldwell 32-33), M McCullough, N Best, N McMillan (S Ferris H-T), R Wilson.
Saracens: D Scarbrough; T Vaikona (B J Russell 73), T Castaignède, K Sorrell (M Bartholomeusz 70), P Bailey; G Jackson, K Bracken; K Yates (B Broster 64), S Byrne (M Cairns 65), C Visagie, S Raiwalui, K Chesney, H Vyvyan (capt), B Russell, B Skirving (D Seymour 81, Byrne 83).
Referee: E Darrière (France).
* Sale can keep dreaming of a stunning English-European double after their club's hard-fought 20-16 away win last night against Castre, of France, in the Heineken Cup, with tries by Jason White and Jason Robinson.Reuse content