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European Champions Cup Ulster v Saracens: Coach Allen Clarke insists past Sarries losses are irrelevant

By Staff Reporter

Published 20/11/2015

Familiar face: Sarries boss Mark McCall is a former player and head coach of Ulster
Familiar face: Sarries boss Mark McCall is a former player and head coach of Ulster

It's not a frequent occurrence to see Allen Clarke facing the microphones, but with his connections to Saracens boss Mark McCall it is logical that the Ulster forwards coach is making a rare appearance.

The two not only played together but also came through as coaches in each other's company and their time at Ulster - with McCall as head coach - resulted in the then Celtic League being secured in 2006, which was the last time any gleaming item was planted in the Kingspan Stadium's trophy cabinet.

It's a familiar enough story with the two young coaches separately departing what was then Ravenhill with both going in different directions, Clarke to the IRFU in Dublin and McCall resigning his post and heading off to just keep working at Castres before then helping revolutionise things at Saracens.

With Clarke having returned to Belfast in 2012, their paths have crossed again as Clarke's responsibilities have evolved into becoming more centrally involved with the senior side.

"I haven't spoken to him (McCall) for two or three weeks now but I'll drop him a text to say 'here we go again and I'll see you after'," said Clarke on addressing the third time the sides have met since the Heineken Cup quarter-final of 2013.

"He's done tremendously well and he's a proud Ulsterman and I think we should all celebrate his success (at Saracens).

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"When I speak to him I just know he's still the same competitive individual who's well organised and has good values and a really good knowledge of the game."

Of course, the controversial loss to Sarries in 2014's European quarter-final stages - when Jared Payne was shown red early on - comes into inevitable view and Clarke bats away any suggestion that revenge is in the air from the last time the sides did battle.

"Yes, there's been history between us over the last number of years but we've great respect for Saracens and you just have to look at their record in Europe over the last few seasons," he said.

"They've lost a European final and a semi-final in recent seasons and, yes, they knocked us out of that quarter-final in 2014.

"But we haven't been talking about that.

"We live in the here and now and we're looking forward to Friday night. We recognise that Saracens have had a really good start to their season and are undefeated.

"But we're focused on what we can do and finding a way to deal with their game and impress our game on them."

Meanwhile, having watched Saracens rack up 32 points against Toulouse last weekend, Ulster defence coach Joe Barakat knows his side will have to be at their best to prevent the London outfit running rampant again.

He said: "We've been looking at their other games obviously and they're dangerous.

"When they're in parts of the field where they like to play football, they move it quickly. They have a real ability to play at pace when they choose to.

"They're like any team, they love momentum.

"It's up to us make sure they don't get it. We play against the likes of Rhys Patchell and Dan Biggar week in, week out and it's the same with Owen Farrell.

"You just have to find that balance between aggression at the collision zone and keeping your discipline so you don't give them shots at goal or the corner.

"It'll be some occasion. I've been told that the whole buzz in the place changes when the European games come up.

"Last week just kind of felt like another away game because we wanted to build on the Newport game but this will be different.

"This place is a difficult place to come to against an Ulster home team.

"I have heard all about the games before, we played fantastic football with 14 men, but it's about the here and now.

"We're a different team now, but we have to remember that they are too."

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