Saracens travel to Belfast this weekend to face Ulster in the quarter-final of the Heineken Cup, here Henry Fraser previews Saturday’s opponents.
Ulster – Rabo form guide, won 13, lost 4.
It’s not often two teams get to face each other in the exact same round in the Heineken Cup two years in a row. But this time it’s Ulster who have home advantage.
It’s has been a very successful European campaign for Ulster so far. They are going into this round as the number one seeds after finishing top with most points after the group stage. It was through a difficult group that they managed to do this as well.
The most impressive thing about Irish province has been their defence. They have only conceded four tries in the Heineken Cup and on average only one a game in their league. They are extremely organised and love to get on top of an attack. Sarries with have to be at their ruthlessly clinical best to score against this defence.
The lineout battle will be massive. Ulster posses three big options with Touhy, Henderson and captain Muller. Borthwick, Botha and Joubert with need to be on point and as efficient as ever as the set piece could prove to be a deciding factor in the outcome of the match.
The forward battle in general will be key and no bigger than in the backrow. The return of Stephen Ferris is massive for Ulster and after missing most of the last two seasons through injury he will be wanting to make an impact off the bench.
Ruan Pienaar orchestrates most things for Ulster and he must be shut down early. Discipline is also key as Pienaar can punish from anywhere in the opposition half and even from inside his own.
The Ravenhill crowd will pushing their team until the end hoping to avenge the quarter final loss from last year. Although the players will not be thinking of last year the crowd certainly will. They act as a sixteenth man and could play a significant part in Saturday’s clash.
Saturday’s game will key a massive clash between two of the in form teams in Europe.
6/4/13 Saracens 26-17 Ulster
Players to watch
Tommy Bowe – He might be an obvious choice but he is a extremely good rugby player. Bowe is a big winger who uses his size to its maximum. His aerial ability is superb and is a real threat from cross field kicks very close to the opposition line. Bowe loves to work off his wing and run off the shoulder of whoever is carrying the ball and causes serious problems for any defence, he can read a game better than most wingers in rugby. Finally his ability to offload out the tackle is superb and must be stopped.
Jared Payne – The Kiwi born fullback is an extremely skillful rugby player. Sarries kicking game will have to be on point as his ability to counter attack and break the gain line is great, and the added support of his wingers could cause even more trouble.