Monday 30 January 2023 Dublin: 8°C
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Goode grief: Ulster undone as Saracens claim bonus point in Belfast
Les Kiss’ side let a nine-point lead slip on home turf.

Ulster 9

Saracens 27

Sean Farrell reports from Kingspan Stadium

SARACENS SUCKER-PUNCHED Ulster with 12 unanswered points while Billy Vunipola was in the sin-bin to swing a bonus point win and deal Ulster a massive setback in Champions Cup Pool 1.

The hosts racked up the entirety of their tally in the opening 25 minutes. However, that healthy 9 – 0 cushion was ripped asunder by the visitors’ clinical attack.

Despite an off night from the kicking tee for Owen Farrell, tries from Chris Wyles, Alex Goode, Duncan Taylor and Vunipola ensured a rough European debut for Les Kiss.

Paddy Jackson scores a drop goal Morgan Treacy / INPHO Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

Ulster had  had a strong case to be facing 14 men for almost the entire game after Saracens blindside Michael Rhodes took out Andrew Trimble in the air after just four minutes. The collision was mere metres from the spot Jared Payne upended Alex Goode in the 2014 quarter-final. However, referee Romain Poite didn’t see the resemblance and deemed the flanker’s hit worthy of just a yellow card.

Ulster edged ahead at the tail end of the sin-bin period, Jackson slotting a straightforward penalty after his grubber on the advantage play was just about covered by Goode, The number 10 would add a drop-goal and a second penalty, but Ulster’s breakdown excellence was always in danger of being cancelled out by the visitors’ solid set-pieces.

Chris Wyles scores a try Morgan Treacy / INPHO Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

Farrell forced Ulster to concede a five-metre line-out with a clever kick in behind Craig Gilroy and from there, the ‘Men in Black’ began their comeback.  Farrell hit Goode on a searing line outside of Andrew Trimble. Louis Ludik waited and waited but was tempted to bite in and Goode didn’t need a second invitation to send Wyles in to the corner.

Farrell missed the touchline conversion, but it remained a nervy closing nine minutes to the half for Ulster as errors began to creep in, but they held a 9 – 5 advantage coming out for the second period.

On his first outing back after injury, Iain Henderson had a quiet opening half by his own barn-storming standards, but he managed to bring the second half to life with an intercept on halfway that forced Vunipola to hit him with a shoulder barge.

Chris Ashton celebrates with try scorer Alex Goode Morgan Treacy / INPHO Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

It was Saracens though, who made the next breakthrough after being reduced to 14. Goode chipped up the right flank and Taylor worked wonders with the speculative effort, taking out two defenders with a sensational offload to send Goode home.

Having led by nine points, Ulster suddenly found themselves eight points down with time and the weather against them. Farrell produced a fine show and go to ghost through the white wall before sending Taylor over for a try he richly deserved.

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With the rain tipping down, McCall loaded his backfield and Ulster’s kicking for territory could not find anything but solid catches from black jerseys.

Saracens kept themselves in Ulster territory and took a penalty to seal the win before the pack eked out the bonus point try from Vunipola.



Penalties: R Pienaar (0/1) P Jackson (2/2)

Drop-goals: P Jackson


Tries: C Wyles, A Goode, D Taylor, B Vunipola

Conversion: O Farrell (1/3) C Hodgson (1/1)

Penalties: O Farrell (1/3)

Ulster: 15. Louis Ludik; 14. Andrew Trimble, 13. Darren Cave, 12. Stuart McCloskey, 11. Craig Gilroy; 10. Paddy Jackson, 9. Ruan Pienaar;  1. Callum Black, 2. Rory Best (c), 3. Wiehahn Herbst, 4. Dan Tuohy, 5. Franco Van Der Merwe, 6. Iain Henderson, 7. Chris Henry, 8. Nick Williams.

16. Rob Herring, 17. Kyle McCall, 18. Ricky Lutton, 19. Robbie Diack, 20. Roger Wilson, 21. Paul Marshall, 22. Ian Humphreys, 23. Peter Nelson

Saracens: 15. Alex Goode; 14. Chris Ashton, 13. Duncan Taylor, 12. Brad Barritt (c), 11. Chris Wyles; 10. Owen Farrell, 9. Richard Wigglesworth; 1. Mako Vunipola, 2. Schalk Brits , 3. Petrus du Plessis, 4. George Kruis, 5. Maro Itoje, 6. Michael Rhodes, 7. Jacques Burger, 8. Billy Vunipola.

16. Jamie George, 17. Rhys Gill, 18. Juan Figallo, 19. Alistair Hargreaves, 20. Jackson Wray, 21. Neil de Kock, 22. Charlie Hodgson, 23. Marcelo Bosch.

Referee: Romain Poite