Ravenhill came alive for Ulster’s Heineken Cup quarter-final clash with Saracens.
Ulster clearly fed off the crowd’s energy and started the match with a high intensity approach. Unfortunately, they paid for their aggression after just 5 minutes when Jared Payne saw red for a collision with Saracen’s full-back Alex Goode. While the offence itself was probably worthy of just a yellow, it seems the extent of Goode’s injury, who had to be stretchered off, forced the referee’s hand.
Ulster’s misery was compounded when Rory Best hobbled off with what appeared to be an ankle problem. Ruan Pienaar was also clearly struggling with his shoulder injury that had saw him sidelined for the last few weeks, but the South African managed to put Ulster in the lead with a well-taken penalty on the 15th minute.
Payne’s sending off forced Chris Henry into outhalf for Ulster, and it was the space he would have been occupying that saw Chris Ashton burst through to score Saracens’ first try. The Englishman’s trademark swan dive was met with contempt courtesy of the silenced Ulster crowd.
Ulster recovered magnificently for the rest of the half, putting on a very impressive display despite being a man down. Pienaar converted two penalties to put the hosts in the lead for the start of the second half. Saracens’ passed up many chances to utilise their man advantage down the flanks and were visibly frustrated.
Ulster opted to play the kicking game in the second half, but their plans were undone when a stray corner attempt saw Saracens’ work the ball back up the field for Mouritz Botha to stroll over the line. Owen Farrell, who had been on the receiving end of a rough reception from the Ulster faithful, missed his third kick of the night.
Saracens’ attacked the Ulster backline again and only for a textbook bit of play to hold up Schalk Brits on the line, would have extended their lead further. Unfortunately, it could not be repeated as Ashton again burst through the open space thanks to the man advantage to score their third try of the night. Farrell landed the conversion.
The game got messy as Ulster went for it and Paddy Jackson, who had replaced Ruan Pienaar, scored two penalties to put Ulster within reach. Unfortunately, one last drive saw Saracens steal the ball at a lineout to keep Ulster at bay.