TWO DOWN, TWO to go. We’re in Belfast this evening as the third of this weekend’s Heineken Cup quarter-finals gets underway in front of a capacity crowd for the first time at the shiny new and redeveloped Ravenhill.
Ulster 15 Saracens 17
17.42 – Hello and welcome, rugby fans, to this weekend’s only monolingual Heineken Cup quarter-final.
The paint fumes are still hanging in the air in the new Grandstand where Ulster have kindly shacked us up for this mouthwatering Heineken Cup quarter-final rematch against Saracens.
There is still the guts of an hour before either Paddy Jackson or Owen Farrell will get us underway, so why not get yourself pumped up with our preview interview with Tommy Bowe linked below) or by catching up on ‘selfish Rory Best’s quest for the fine margins.
Not your bag? Then have a read how Andrew Trimble’s coping after his brilliant Six Nations or let Adam D’Arcy tell you about the rare occasion when Ruan Pienaar lost his cool.
After that, if ye all have been really good, we’ll probably have some rugby for you.
17.45 – As you may have seen us post on Twitter a little earlier, this was the scene outside the main entrance of Ravenhill at 4.30 this afternoon.
Two hours before kick-off, but these fans are just itching to get in and SUFTUM.
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17.51 – The confirmations are in, both teams will line out as selected yesterday. Here are the 46 men set to do battle tonight.
Ulster: Jared Payne; Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, Luke Marshall, Tommy Bowe; Paddy Jackson, Ruan Pienaar: Tom Court, Rory Best, John Afoa; Johann Muller (c), Dan Tuohy; Roger Wilson, Chris Henry, Nick Williams.
Replacements: Rob Herring, Andrew Warwick, Ricky Lutton, Iain Henderson, Stephen Ferris, Robbie Diack, Paul Marshall, Craig Gilroy.
Saracens: Alex Goode; Chris Ashton, Duncan Taylor, Brad Barritt, David Strettle; Owen Farrell, Richard Wigglesworth; Mako Vunipola, Schalk Brits, James Johnston; Steve Borthwick (c), Mouritz Botha; Billy Vunipola, Jacques Burger, Ernst Joubert.
Replacements: Jamie George, Richard Barrington, Matt Stevens, Eoin Sheriff, Kelly Brown, Neil de Kock, Charlie Hodgson, Chris Wyles.
18.00 – Right, Pharrell Williams has replaced Katy Perry on the new and improved Ulster soundsystem, so that’s my queue to leave the stew alone and waddle my may up to my designated seat.
18.24 – Made it.
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18.27 – No shortage of pomp and ceremony here. Willy John McBride is on the big screen and the guard of honour long since set to welcome the teams onto the pitch.
A small pocket of travelling Sarries fans make themselves heard in between the din.
Oh, it’s close.
18.31 – Saracens come out to an anti-climactic boo. Johann Muller bides his time in the tunnel but eventual leads his side out to a raucous standing ovation.
Paddy Jackson will kick us off with Ulster attacking the Memorial End, that’s the far end from the picture I’ve posted below.
18.32 – KICK-OFF: Early advantage to Saracens from the opening kicks. Wigglesworth put in a solid clearance and Jared Payne overcooked his shot in behind Chris Ashton. Out on the full, a cheap chance for Borthwick and co. to set the maul.
18.35 – Rory Best penalised for going off his feet. A very early opportunity for Owen Farrell to punish the hosts and quieten this crowd…
My oh my. The unerring Owen Farrell has erred, missing left of the posts.
18.37 – That miss boosted Ulster and the crowd soon followed through vocally as Wigglesworth box kick was charged down. But another Payne error has once again put the skids on proceedings, clattering into Alex Goode while the fullback was at the apex of his leap.
18.40 – We’re with the TMO for a decision on whether that careless charge deserves more than a penalty. And Goode is still receiving treatment while the man with the slo-mo mulls it over.
18.39 – Here is the Payne/Goode coming together:
Source: Sky Sports
18.43 – The stretcher has left the field without Alex Goode, that’s a good sign. It’s six minutes since he hit the deck and Jerome Garces has produced a RED CARD for Jared Payne.
18.44 – This could be a long night after that – to our eyes extremely harsh – decision.
18.47 – A promising game is in danger of turning into an absolute dogfight here. And that’s a best case scenario for the home side.
The crowd feel rightly aggrieved, and the Ulster pack have responded well with Dan Tuohy and Muller leading the resistance.
18.49 – Brilliant from Tommy Bowe. The Lions wing came late to the base of a ruck and emerged clean with the ball. His grubber through didn’t quite come off – nor did Cave’s follow up – but it was a massive moment to lift the pressure for a few phases.
18.53 – Another hammer blow for Ulster as Rory Best limps off. The Six Nations champ is replaced by Rob Herring.
18.55 – 12 mins: That’s two massive leaders that Ulster will be deprived of for the remainder, but the others are stepping up to the plate; Andrew Trimble taking a high ball and counter-attacking on the left, brilliantly delaying his pass to Luke Marshall who wisely grubbered on.
18.56 – From the 22 drop out that resulted, Ulster’s breakdown has forced a penalty on the 10-metre line.
Well within Pienaar range after the black shirt was holding on. It goes without saying that these are absolutely crucial.
PENALTY: Ulster 3 Saracens 0 (Pienaar ‘ 16)
19.00 – We would never question a referee here at TheScore.ie, but the last few penalty calls have a whiff of Jerome Garces attempting to balance u his early error.
Billy Vunipola starts a scrap after a third consecutive straight arm goes Ulster’s way. Pienaar has the tee. This is tremendous from Ulster against the odds, but Pienaar just fails to curl this 45 metre penalty inside the uprights.
19.01 – Crikey! From the restart, Saracens somehow allowed Ulster create an overlap on the left flank after a turnover. Williams tried to commit a tackler, but he was well held and failed to get one of his trademark clean offloads away.
19.03 – One quarter down and Ulster still trail in the headcount, but lead on the score-sheet. Saracens are back on the attack now after Bowe allows a high ball slip through his arms for a knock on.
Scrum black on halfway.
19.07 – John Afoa takes a brief break from the coalface to get his head taped up, but the reset scrum is solid and a reverse pass opens the door for Ashton to take the pass.
Marshall lines him up for the tackle but misses and we have an Ash Splash in the right hand corner.
TRY! Ulster 3 Saracens 5 (Ashton ’24)
Farrell misses his second kick of the day, again it’s off to the left.
19.11 – After a horrible fumbling Ulster line-out Billy Vunipola comes off the back of the scrum and is practically carrying two men in white for a second. Once he goes to deck the call is not releasing and Sarries get set to go wide again.
When they do, though, the pass to Strettle is botched and Bowe picks and has a brief think about an intercept try before chipping on and the cavalry force Wyles into conceding the line-out.
19.13 – Wow. A brilliant maul from Ulster. This eight is a long way removed from the side who were driven back 40 metres by Cardiff last week.
Saracens collapse and give away the penalty, with Ulster’s thinly stretched backs unable to make hay on the advantage.
PENALTY: Ulster 6 Saracens 5 (Pienaar ’30)
How long can Ulster keep this up for. They’re determined to make this an incredible match.
19.20 – Tiredness just beginning to show in Ulster’s discipline now as they are pinged for holding on just inside their 10-metre line.
Owen Farrell isn’t interested in kicking goals anymore. They go for the sideline and the maul rumbles off a solid line-out.
Back come Ulster! After the maul collapses Henry comes up with a superb turnover and Pienaar clears the lines with his left boot.
Another massive roar comes up from the home fans as Andrew Trimble clatters a receiver man-and-ball and produces a turnover after Sarries sought to go wide straight off the top.
19.21 – Both is penalised on halfway and Pienaar has a chance to – I can’t believe I’m saying this – extend Ulster’s lead from 51 metres, but his kick is pulled just to the right by the breeze.
19.24 – A high ball goes up and this time the Ulster chaser is Tommy Bowe and the challenge is fair as he forces a knock-on. Ulster’s scrum is fair too and as Rory Best hobbles towards the tunnel in front of a standing ovation, Ruan Pienaar gets the posts locked between his sights. Incredible.
PENALTY Ulster 9 Saracens 5 (Pienaar ‘ 40)
It’s half time and thank goodness for that.
19.41 – We’re back underway at Ravenhill, folks and the crowd have not needed a second invitation to make their presence felt. An early penalty goes against Saracens and Jackson kicks the home side up to the 22 metre line.
19.42 – Herring throws to the tail and another decent maul is set, but it goes nowhere. Ulster are playing for penalties here, but there’s nothing doing.
Sarries drift defence is looking secure when Ulster go wide, but Pienaar twists the knife a liitle with a beautiful dink from 30 metres to five. Wyles to clear his lines well.
19.46 – The line-out has been exemplary since Herring has come on. Johann Muller soaring in the air like a… well, like an expert line-out jumper.
19.51 – Saracens rolling out the subs now with Ulster just beginning to flag.
An Ashton break makes the opening and the white shirts struggle to spread back to Saracens left wing, but the Premiership look to be making bad decisions, getting caught in tackles with men out wide. Bad decisions until they go back to the right where Botha is the extra man able to dot the ball down.
TRY! Ulster 9 Saracens 10 (Botha ’48)
19.52 – Farrell misses yet another kick at goal, but there is more bad news for Ulster as Ruan Pienaar cradles his shoulder injury to the sideline. Paul Marshall now partners Paddy Jackson.
19.55 – Ulster simply will not be put down easily. They attack again thorough Bowe and Vunipola is penalised for a high tackle just outside the 22. Big moment for Paddy Jackson to settle into….
OH. A lovely looking kick, but it just veers onto the posts.
That disappointment is put aside for the introduction of Stephen Ferris.
19.57 – 56 mins: They’re standing up for the Ulstermen and why wouldn’t they? It’s been an absolutely brilliant display of guts and determination from Mark Anscombe’s side. Just a point in the difference as we approach the end of the third quarter despite being shorn of a crucial playmaker in the opening minutes.
20.00 – Iain Henderson and Robbie Diack are nearing the end of their warm-up now after the pack force another brilliant turnover just outside their own 22. They still have to escape their half, though, and Marshall’s Garryowen is just a little too close to Strettle for Bowe to claim cleanly. Scrum Saracens, just inside their half.
20.01 – 60 minutes.: There’s Henderson into the front line now, Tuohy the man replaced.
20.04 – Amazing scenes as Luke Marshall steals onto a loose ball and chips through, he wins the race to two loose balls and is hauled down, but just Ulster’s luck, we go back for a penalty to Saracens outside the 22.
I thought that was the magic moment Ravenhill had been waiting for.
20.05 – Unbelievable.
Owen Farrell misses from almost directly in front of the posts. That’s all four of his attempts that have been off target.
20.08 – Incredible defence.
Saracens raid down the middle twice with Trimble taking out Brits first and then Ashton getting caught within inches of the line. Just as the defenders looked like they were tiring and Saracens had numbers, a defender pops up and somehow forces the attack to overthink and become held up.
Scrum V to Ulster as Andrew Trimble departs concussed after that hit on Brits. |Craig Gilroy is in the game.
20.13 – TRY! Ulster 9 Saracens 17 (Ashton ’67)
It had to come. The flying winger dives on Owen Farrell’s best kick-off the night, a cross-field kick into the corner when Ulster’s tired legs are only capable of defending narrow phases.
Farrell finally nails a conversion, his fifth attempt of the night.
20.16 – And that’s the goose cooked I’m afraid folks. The northern province will battle on, but eight points and a man is a massive deficit in professional rugby.
Johann Muller takes his leave of the Heineken Cup, he deserved a better stage to bow out on.
20.18 – PENALTY! Ulster 12 Saracens 17 (Jackson ‘ 70)
Three down, five to go. A glimmer of hope for Ulster as Jackson drills one into the Aquinas end from close to 50 metres.
20.21 – PENALTY! Ulster 15 Saracens 17 (Jackson ’73)
Wow. We’re in for a grandstand finish here as Botha gives away a cheap penalty just outside his own 10 metre line and the young out-half once again finds his target.
I love nothing more than eating my words.
20.23 – Farrell has a go at impersonating Ronan O’Gara with a dink in behind, but on this evidence he’s not fit to lace the great man’s boots. The ball dribbles out to the dead ball line and Ulster have the scrum 10 metres inside their own half.
One chance, that’s all this crowd of 18,000 craves.
20.24 – PENALTY! Garces gives the decision to Ulster off that scrum and Jackson kicks for a line-out in the Sarries half.
Ah, NO! Without Muller and Best, the set-piece breaks down and we’r in for a bit of a kicking duel.
20.26 – Ulster just about claim the advantage from that bit of tennis and they are trucking it into the red and black line. Bowe finds a half break, catching the defence blitzing prematurely.
Ulster want a penalty here, they need a penalty.
20.27 – Incredible resolve from the hosts. They are flinging everything at the Premiership leads and making small gains over the line. 35 metres out. Too far for a drop goal.
20.28 – Sarries pack doing well to leave well enough alone at the breakdown, they’re fanning out and shutting off the routes effectively.
20.28 – 80 minutes are up…
20.29 – Holding on. Penalty Saracens.
FULL TIME: Ulster 15 Saracens 17.
20.33 – That was an absolutely gut-wrenching game to watch. Ulster, so hardly done by, so early on and yet their incredible determination brought them within a single kick of the Heineken Cup semi-finals.
It was not to be, however, instead it is Saracens who will host Clermont in London and Ulster will begin to rebuild as some core squad members leave these shores.
We’ll have all the reaction from the Ulster camp tonight, but thanks for joining in. It wasn’t an easy watch for any of us, but it was pulsating from minute 1 to 80+.