Saracens will be too strong for Ulster despite return of internationals
By Daniel Pilcher
“Ulster have to win the Heineken Cup, they’re too good this season.”
That is just a sample of quotes I’ve heard from pub punters after the last round of Heineken Cup pool games.
At the time, I might have thought that they were shoe-ins to make it to the Aviva for the final, now though, I am not too sure of their chances to even seal a semi-final spot there, let alone the main event.
Since the last round, it just hasn’t been plain sailing for Mark Anscombe’s side, they have managed to let a sizable lead in the Pro 12 slip, and albeit for one week, they were knocked off their perch.
Fair enough, the Six Nations argument is a valid one, they had the largest representation of Ulster players at international camp in my memory, so with players like Rory Best, Chris Henry, Paddy Jackson etc. all missing from your squad, of course you will not be at your strongest.
The Ulster coach this week reported that his squad were back to full strength and had no fresh injury worries ahead of the trip to Twickenham. A big boost to the Ulster men came this week when it was announced long term injury lay-off Tommy Bowe would be included on the bench.
Even at full strength, I’m still not sure if I fancy their chance of progressing further.
When you look at Saracens, everything has gone right for them this season. Top of the table in the Aviva Premiership, they have just been so impressive.
Saracens have kicked more penalties than any other club in the Heineken Cup this season registering 27 in total.
So with that in mind, if Owen Farrell shakes off the demons of his woeful performance in Cardiff in the Six Nations in time, Ulster would want to make sure their discipline is well controlled, especially as the man in the middle is whistle-happy Frenchman Roman Poite.
Looking at the stats, Ulster have performed better with an 83% success rate to Saracens 78%, if that is kept the same, Pienaar or Jackson will want to make sure they bring the right boots because I feel we will see a lot of penalties.
If Ulster win, they will have the winners of the Toulon v Leicester Tigers tie in the Aviva, while Saracens will have them at Twickenham if they are victorious.
My mind tells me though, we will be seeing a semi-final game in Twickenham.