Ulster are out for revenge in a repeat of last year’s quarter-final, when Sarries ran out convincing 27-16 winners at Wembley. Crucially though, it is Ulster who have home advantage on Saturday as they welcome former stalwart Mark McCall and his charges back to Ravenhill.
McCall, Ulster head coach between 2004 and 2007, masterminded Saracens bludgeoning defeat of his home club last term before seeing his team fall flat in the both semi-finals of the Heineken Cup and Premiership play-offs.
But Sarries have bounced back since and come into the game on an impressive run of form, with successive domestic victories over Northampton and Wasps seeing the London club open up a seven-point gap at the top of the Premiership table. There is good news on the injury front, too, with their increasingly influential No. 8 Billy Vunipola set to return after missing England’s last two games of the Six Nations.
Ulster qualified for the knock-out stages as the only team with a 100% record. However no club which has won all its pool matches has ever gone on to lift the Heineken Cup in the same season
They are boosted by the return, after a 16-month absence, of bulldozing back-row Stephen Ferris.
With Ferris returning to add his not inconsiderable bulk to a vastly improved forward pack the feeling is that the home side will not be dominated by Saracens’ South African-influenced power-unit as per last year.
The Ulstermen suffered their first defeat of 2014 last weekend, but you can be sure at least one eye was on this weekend’s revenge mission. With Ruan Pienaar pulling the strings at half-back and the likes of Tommy Bowe and the aforementioned Ferris back in harness, Ulster look primed to go one better than last season in front of a capacity crowd at their revamped stadium.
The goalkicking dual between Sarries’ English out-half Owen Farrell and South African Pienaar could determine the outcome here, with both men unerring from placed kicks.
As is always the case in the last-eight of this competition, home advantage counts for so much – of the 68 Heineken Cup quarter-final matches played to date over 17 seasons, home clubs have a 76% success rate. On that basis Ulster look about right to shade this, in both halves, so take the 21/20 on offer in the half-time/full-time market.
The match kicks off tomorrow at 6.30pm.