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We haven't faced a better defence all season: Victorious McCall

By Jonathan Bradley

Published 18/01/2016

Doubling up: Craig Gilroy attracts the attention of Duncan Taylor and Marcelo Bosch during Ulster’s defeat to Saracens
Doubling up: Craig Gilroy attracts the attention of Duncan Taylor and Marcelo Bosch during Ulster’s defeat to Saracens

Saracens Director of Rugby Mark McCall praised Ulster's defence as the best his side have faced this season despite securing a second bonus-point win of the campaign against his native province on Saturday.

Ulster's erstwhile coach and captain presided over a 33-17 win at Allianz Park to book the Londoners' place in the Champions Cup quarter-finals - the Premiership champions also took all five points on offer when the pair met at the Kingspan Stadium in November - but was still full of praise for his former side.

Much like the pool-opening contest, Ulster were able to test the competition favourites for the first 50 minutes of the game but Saracens' superior quality told in the half an hour when a six-point lead swelled to 23 before a late consolation score from substitute out-half Ian Humphreys.

McCall was thrilled with the way his side chipped away at what had initially been stubborn resistance from the visitors.

"Ulster had probably the best defence we've come up against all season. It took everything we had to break them down," said Bangor man McCall.

"To score four tries against them was a big achievement. It was a good win for us."

The pair could yet meet again in this competition should Ulster beat Oyonnax handsomely next weekend and qualify for the last-eight as one of three best runners-up.

In such an eventuality, McCall would want the rematch to remain at Allianz Park, unlike the 2013 quarter-final which was moved to Twickenham.

Competition rules state that the first knockout round must take place in a stadium with at least a capacity of 15,000, 5,000 larger than Saracens' base.

"We're relying on some planning applications to go through and the goodwill of the town council here," McCall said. "Hopefully we will have our first-ever quarter-final in Barnet. It would make a significant difference to us to play here rather than Twickenham, which is probably where we would be.

"It would be wonderful to have 15,000 here for a one-off occasion. Fingers crossed common sense prevails."

Saracens' man of the match once again proved to be the in-form Owen Farrell with the out-half pleased by his side's relentless response to not only a first defeat of the season against Harlequins last week, but Ulster scoring the game's first try through Luke Marshall with only six minutes played.

"Ulster took their chance well, but we fought back and our set-piece was great," said the son of Ireland's incoming defence coach Andy Farrell, who was in the crowd on Saturday.

"This competition is massive - it's the best of the best. We don't pick and choose when to turn up in matches, because we want to win every game, but we have been up there in the Champions Cup in the last few years.

"We've been working hard this season to get off to a kind of start we've had, but now we've got to make sure it stays that way."

Although occasionally wayward with the boot, Farrell provided 13 points off the tee but it was his break to create a score for Duncan Taylor that really opened up the contest.

Farrell admitted that his team-mates played with an edge in an effort to confirm their status as pool winners.

"We always look forward to European matches and, having lost our first game last weekend, we were looking for a reaction," he added.

"We had a few harsh words with ourselves after last weekend."

Belfast Telegraph

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