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No revenge mission: Ulster not driven by Saracens hurt

By Jonathan Bradley

Despite losing six of their seven games against Saracens in European competition, Ulster's trip to Allianz Park this weekend is no "revenge mission" according to prop Ricky Lutton.

The province need no reminding of their last encounter - the November meeting when Mark McCall's men stormed the Kingspan Stadium for a bonus point win - while the bitter memory of consecutive quarter-final defeats in 2013 and '14 still linger.

Having brought their Champions Cup campaign back from the brink with three wins from three since that fateful evening two months ago, Les Kiss' side will travel to north London motivated by the prospect of a quarter-final place, not a settling of scores.

"The last game doesn't need mentioning," said the tight-head.

"The boys that were involved know how hurt we were, how we felt after that game. It's not a revenge mission; it's up to us to go out and win, and to put ourselves in a great position to qualify.

"If you look at Saracens, the form they've been in and what they did to us here, there's a huge focus this week.

"The boys are hurting from what they did to us at our own home. We know how important the game is in terms of our European future."

Saturday's game, of course, could have had little bearing on the makeup of the Champions Cup last eight had Ulster not somehow clawed their way out of a 23-0 half-time hole against Oyonnax last weekend.

Inspired by the stirring words of captain Rory Best, the personnel changes of Kiss and tactical adjustments from the coaching staff, 24 unanswered points in the second-half kept the campaign alive with Lutton admitting that the video review of the first 40 minutes had many squirming in their seats.

"We were well aware without seeing the video that the first-half wasn't good enough," said the Oxford graduate, who will turn 30 next month.

"There were some honest truths revealed and a few of the boys, myself included, were pretty embarrassed by aspects of our play. I was responsible myself for a few shocking missed tackles.

"The squad showed a lot of character in the second-half to turn around that deficit.

"When Rory speaks before or during a game, he just holds the room. You can see in his eyes, and the way he speaks, the passion he has for Ulster Rugby. There's nowhere else he'd rather play.

"It rejuvenates the boys around him. There were maybe a few heads down but as soon as he started speaking you saw the whole mood lifted.

"Boys who maybe had doubted themselves said 'we can win this, we will win this'."

The change after the turn was most evident in the scrum, a source of much joy for Oyonnax in the first-half, with Lutton citing the influence of management, notably forwards coach Allen Clarke, in righting the faltering set-piece.

"It shows the influence of the coaching staff up in the box that they can see what's needed and get that message down to the pitch," he said.

"It's small tweaks at the level we're at. It's a game of inches, of five degree angles. They weren't huge changes we made. It's a testament to them, and to the subs watching on the sidelines, that they can give you advice.

"(Allen Clarke) is up there watching, trying to get messages onto the pitch, to improve not just the scrum but all our forward play."

With Saracens' Welsh prop Rhys Gill handed a three-week ban for his red card at the weekend, Ulster's tight-head seems set to go head-to-head with British and Irish Lion Mako Vunipola come scrum time.

Wiehahn Herbst is fit again after a calf injury to put pressure on Lutton, and the Belfast Harlequins man is sure that whoever gets the nod in the No.3 jersey is in for a testing afternoon.

"We know their strengths, we know they like to play a high pressure game, and they like to dominate field position," he said. "It's up to us to counteract that. It's a huge challenge for the coaches to come up with a game plan and it's a huge challenge for us to implement it.

"You can't go into a rugby game expecting everything to go your way. You have to reach into this dark places and come out the other side."

Ulster need no reminding that come the other side this weekend, they could have one foot in Europe's quarter-finals.

Belfast Telegraph


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