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Kingspan side can turn it around: McCall

ByJonathan Bradley

Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall has said Ulster can still be a factor in the Champions Cup despite masterminding a bonus-point win against his former side at Kingspan Stadium on Friday evening.

No visiting side to Belfast in European competition had claimed a four-try win since Gloucester in 2007 - a game that incidentally was McCall's last in charge of his native province - but the Bangor man has said that Les Kiss's squad still have the ability to make the competition's quarter-finals.

"It's their first game and there are plenty of teams that have lost their first game and gone on to qualify," McCall said.

"They've a heck of a good squad and a really good coach and it'll only get better from here.

"It looked like their strongest team of the year, the problem that Les has had is that they haven't played.

"Iain Henderson playing his first game of the season for them, Rory Best has played 20 minutes, Ruan Pienaar has played 20 minutes.

"In circumstances like that, it's hard to then turn it on in the big game like today.

"Thankfully we've had a bit more time together because England went out of the World Cup so early."

While Saracens were deserved and comprehensive winners on Friday night, referee Romain Poite had an early decision to make when Michael Rhodes took out Andrew Trimble in the air after just four minutes.

Saying that there were shades of Jared Payne and Alex Goode in the meeting between the sides two seasons ago - in reality Rhodes' challenge was worse than the one that led to the Kiwi seeing red in the 2014 quarter-final - McCall admitted that it was a nervous moment.

"It didn't look good. It felt a bit like here we go and it's the exact opposite of two years ago.

"Two years ago it probably would have been a different story but they have become more lenient in those situations.

"It was a definite yellow card but I'm not too sure Billy Vunipola's was to be perfectly honest."

The decision to yellow card the England number 8 Vunipola was another error but, with Saracens giving up just three points in the 20 minutes they played with 14 men, McCall praised his side's defensive work.

"There was a strong breeze and we chose to play into it in the first half.

"With the score being 9-5 at half-time, that was okay for us. They would have chosen to play into the wind given the chance and we were fortunate to turn around with a small deficit and then really squeeze them into their own '22'.

"The score was still 9-5 when Billy got sin-binned, we defended really well when they got into our '22' and then next eight minutes were wonderful.

"It was a good, strong, resilient team performance.

"It was beyond our wildest dreams to come away with a bonus point."

Having taken nine points from their first two games, and with a double-header against Pool 1's supposed weakest team Oyonnax to come in December, Saracens are in clear control of their Champions Cup fate, with McCall admitting that they are in the driving seat should they secure the expected wins against the Top 14 strugglers.

"We were hoping Ulster were going to be the first team to play Oyonnax in the Champions Cup," he said.

"You don't underestimate anybody and now we've got to go and do a really thorough professional job there and bring them back to our place.

"If we win both those games then obviously we're in a good place."

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