Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

Saturday night clash for Ulster in Euro quarter

Ulster's Iain Henderson is held by Chris Ashton and Kelly Brown of Saracens in last year's Heineken Cup quarter-final

Ulster and Saracens will square up for their eagerly-awaited Heineken Cup quarter-final re-match on Saturday, April 5, kicking off at 6.30pm.

That is the prime-time television slot, underlining the importance SkySport, the ERC's Heineken Cup broadcast partners, are attaching to the fixture.

Small wonder, for this one has the makings of a memorable occasion. For starters, it will be quite a homecoming for Saracens' Director of Rugby is Mark McCall, who was Ulster's coach when the province last won silverware.

That was in 2006, since then a lot has changed, on and off the pitch. By the time the current Aviva Premiership leaders arrive, Ravenhill will be completely re-built and ready to host a capacity crowd of 18,200.

When the sides met at the same stage last season they did so at Twickenham. Then it was a case of fourth seeds versus the fifth, with Ulster in the latter role and required to travel as a result.

But with their Allianz Park home not up to accommodating the fixture, Saracens switched it to English rugby's national stadium where a UK record crowd for a Heineken Cup quarter-final – 37,888 all told – saw the hosts beat Ulster 27-16.

This time, though, it is very different. Ulster – the number one seeds with a perfect played six, won six pool-stage record – are at home to opponents who squeezed into the last eight as second-best runners-up.

When the pairing was confirmed, McCall's Ulster counterpart, David Humphreys, said: "We are obviously pleased to be on the home side of the draw for the semi-finals, but that will only be relevant if we beat Saracens at Ravenhill in the quarter-final. Winning that game is what we are fully focused on now.

"Over the past few seasons we have made steady improvement – first we qualified, then last year we won our group but were away, now we have finished the Pool stage as top seeds and have a home quarter-final.

"Last season we were hugely disappointed with the way we performed at Twickenham against Saracens. Now we have the opportunity to lay those ghosts to rest."

Humphreys and McCall are great friends, of course, the former having taken over the captaincy when injury saw the latter miss out on leading Ulster to the 1999 European Cup.

Ulster's clash with Saracens is the last of a trio of quarter-finals on April 5 with the curtain going up at Thomond Park where Munster host Toulouse. That will be followed by ASM Clermont Auvergne v Leicester Tigers at the Stade Marcel-Michelin.

The following day Leinster tackle the Jonny Wilkinson-inspired holders, Toulon, in France. Priority Booking 1 Ulster v Saracens match tickets go on sale online to existing season-ticket holders from 9am on Monday, February 17, with Priority Booking 2 – for new (2014-15) season-ticket holders – available online from 9am on Monday, February 24.

Season tickets for 2014-15 can be purchased from February 17, whereupon holders will qualify for Priority Booking 2 status.

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