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European Champions Cup Saracens v Ulster: Gilroy sights set on Ulster bid to avoid double vision

By Michael Sadlier

The impact was as horrible as it looked and as Craig Gilroy was emptied into touch early on at Stade Ernest-Wallon his game was well and truly over with a fractured eye socket the outcome of his brief visit to Toulouse's home patch.

Not the ideal way to mark what became a tub-thumping European victory and certainly not how Gilroy wants to receive another pass from Franco van der Merwe.

"Franco has apologised profusely," Gilroy says of the hospital pass he received from the South African which ended up sidelining him for three weeks until his try-scoring return in last Sunday's dramatic win at Oyonnax.

"I could hear the ambulance and I think he could too," the 24-year-old adds with a fairly mischievous grin but he is only warming to the subject.

"It's the first time I've ever broken my eye socket though it's not the first time I've broken something in my face as I've broken my nose and my jaw before.

"It was a strange injury. I was still able to do some pretty intense training in the gym and speed work but," and the smile gets bigger for this, "I had to learn to sneeze through my mouth and I couldn't really blow my nose because if any air got in it could have made things messy.

"But apart from that it was grand," and, with that, it's definitely time to move on to the matter of taking on Saracens at Allianz Park tomorrow in the penultimate round of European pool games.

There's no disguising the importance of this clash as Ulster's realistic ambitions of escaping Pool One are likely to require something from this meeting.

And not forgetting the fact that not only did Sarries turn Ulster over with ease at the Kingspan back in November but they have also done for the province in, how could we forget, two previous European quarter-final meetings.

While 2013 and the following year now seem so distant for Gilroy, the memory of November's 27-9 bonus point defeat is still all too fresh in the Ireland international's mind.

"We were beaten off the park and it's something we've looked at fixing and trying to make right.

"We've grown as a team (since then) and I think it will be a very different game this weekend," Gilroy maintains.

Though Saracens don't really do many defeats - their first of the season was at Harlequins last weekend - and tend to be beaten even less on their artificial surface at Allianz Park, Gilroy again dismisses form as having too much of a bearing on what Ulster aim to do tomorrow.

"We can't look at that (Sarries defeat) too much but obviously they can be beaten," says Gilroy.

"But it's not about them, it's about us and what we'll bring and what we've prepared," he adds.

Les Kiss's side - who sit six behind unbeaten pool leaders Sarries - will be playing their second of an unusual three straight European games, while also performing for a second week on an artificial surface, but he reckons it's still a case of advantage Ulster.

"If anything I think it's set us up for them," Gilroy argues.

"There's actually less of a build-up because we've already played that first game so instead of Saracens away and Oyonnax at home we're already used to it (Europe), and playing on a 3G pitch, so we can take a lot of positives from that.

"That (special) atmosphere from the European games has already been built from last week so we'll take that on to Sarries."

So, propelled by their astonishing comeback from 23-0 down at Oyonnax, there is more than a hint being put out there that Ulster just might do something unexpected at Allianz Park.

"We turned it round well. We came together as a squad and we really needed a kick up the ass to be honest," says Gilroy who was deployed as full-back in Oyonnax but will now probably feature back on the wing tomorrow.

"It was a fantastic turnaround and performance," admits the six-times capped Ireland player before paying Mark McCall's Premiership title-holding side due homage.

"Saracens will be a different kettle of fish for us. They are one of the form teams in Europe and they're a very dangerous side wherever they play and we're going over there into their backyard," he says.

"But at the same time we have belief and confidence in ourselves at being able to go over there.

"Yes, it's a massive ask but we're not shying away from it."

Saracens should take heed and prepare for a battle royal.

Belfast Telegraph


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