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Brown expects fiery Ulster clash


Kelly Brown, Saracens

Kelly Brown, Saracens

Kelly Brown, Saracens

Kelly Brown is as wary as anyone of the cauldron atmosphere that awaits Saracens when they take on Ulster in the Heineken Cup quarter-final on Saturday given his father grew up in the province.

Saracens will arrive at Ravenhill in confident mood after extending their lead at the top of the Aviva Premiership table to seven points with back-to-back wins over Harlequins and Wasps.

The Men in Black can expect a wholly different challenge in Belfast, however, taking on an Ulster side who won all six matches in the tournament's pool stage and are undefeated at home since September.

Brown's father's side of the family are all Irish and the Scotland back-rower will have cousins in the crowd on Saturday, he hopes, wearing Saracens shirts.

"My dad is from Ulster so I've been getting a lot of stories from him about the excitement and the level of interest in the game over there," Brown said.

"I'm expecting an unbelievable atmosphere. They could probably have sold out this match four or five times over which just shows the level of excitement and the level of expectation there is there, but as a player you want to be involved in these big games."

He added: "All we can do is focus on ourselves, that's what we've being doing this week.

"We've looked at Ulster and identified their main strengths, which there are a lot of, and we have tried to find a few weaknesses of which there aren't that many.

"We want to go over there and impose ourselves on them and try to put them under as much pressure as we can."

Saracens developed a taste for unfamiliar settings last season when they played home matches at a variety of venues including Watford, Wembley and Twickenham until their new stadium in Barnet was completed.

The players are also growing used to the big occasion. Saracens have now reached the knock-out stages of the Heineken Cup for the past three seasons.

"That experience definitely helps," Brown said.

"If you look at the squad now, we've got experienced players and even some of the younger guys like Mako and Billy Vunipola, they have played a lot of big games now.

"Playing at Ulster is the sort of thing you have to handle together and as a squad I think it's the sort of thing we enjoy.

"We've played a lot of teams away - last season we played at something like nine different home venues - it will be tough but we're really looking forward to it."

Saracens beat Ulster on home soil at the same stage of the competition last year and there may be added motivation for the squad to progress again given captain Steve Borthwick is retiring at the end of the season.

Borthwick has been a commanding figure at the club since he joined from Bath in 2008 and director of rugby Mark McCall believes the 34-year-old deserves to go out on a high.

"Steve would absolutely hate it if he thought that I was talking about him and it certainly hasn't been mentioned yet, but the team know he will give everything he's got in the next eight or nine weeks to make sure the season finishes the way we want it to," McCall said.

"I can't think of a player who deserves to go out with another medal or a winner's trophy more than Steve.

"If that's the Heineken Cup trophy, brilliant, if it's not the Heineken Cup trophy and we can win the Premiership again for someone like him that would be brilliant as well."