Ulster confidence will be high for Saracens tie - Ryan Constable

Mark Anscombe
Mark Anscombe

Ex-Ulster player and BBC analyst Ryan Constable believes the province's hard-fought Pro12 win over Leinster at the RDS will give them the confidence boost they need to produce their best in Saturday's Heineken Cup quarter-final with Saracens.

The injury-ravaged Irish outfit had been struggling to rediscover their early season form ahead of the eagerly anticipated last eight clash at Twickenham.

"Coming off a run of disappointing results, Ulster coach Mark Anscombe's priority will have been a good performance against Leinster, but in the end he got both the performance and the right result," said Constable.

"Allied with the return of several key players, that display will have provided a huge boost to morale within the camp.

"A lot of the players on the Ulster team did not have much game time under their belts and had to be reintroduced to the systems so, with that in mind, it was an outstanding outcome.

"Leinster had been on a great run of form and the prospect of a European quarter-final could have proved a distraction, so you can't underestimate the importance of a win like that."

Constable says Saracens will "deservedly start as favourites" but adds that "a victory is certainly not beyond Ulster".

"Saracens are top of the English Premiership, they have great squad depth and the best functioning lineout in the competition.

"They also possess two 85% goal kickers, but Ulster have a lot of big match players in their ranks too and if they reach the heights that they managed against Leinster, they have a good chance of success.

"I expect the breakdown to be the key area in this game, particularly considering the way Saracens play defensively.

"They are clever in who they commit to the breakdown, tending to flood the field and adopt defensive positions early.

"Having said that, if Ulster can obtain quality possession, they have the attacking quality and flair to break down the Saracens defence."

A lot of the attention in the run-up to the Twickenham tie will feature on former Ulster coach Mark McCall's position as Director of Rugby at Saracens, but Constable believes that will have little relevance to the Irish side's preparations.

"The fact that Mark is the Saracens coach will be of little interest to the Ulster camp as most of the players were not coached by him at Ulster and their sole focus will be on the calls, the set-pieces and the other tactics they need to concentrate on.

Rory Best
Rory Best performed well for Ulster against Leinster

"They will simply be reviewing their own recent performances and those of their opponents and working out what they need to do to win this game.

"Given his success rate in Dublin, Ruan Pienaar is the obvious choice to take the place kicks and that should free up Paddy Jackson to try and control the match in the way he did against Leinster.

"Paddy provided the building block for the Ulster attack and that manifested itself in the number of clean line breaks they achieved.

"Rory Best will be a key player too - he was immense against Leinster and fitted seamlessly back into the Ulster jersey, leading from the front.

"Chris Henry is largely responsible for generating the pace of ball, while among the backs I expect Andrew Trimble and Luke Marshall to play significant roles.

"Andrew has been Ulster's most consistent performer this season while Luke has also been outstanding and will be tasked with taking on the combative Saracens midfield."

And the former centre believes that the choice of Twickenham as the venue may work in Ulster's favour.

"Allianz Park would have been foreign to the Ulster players but Twickenham should be dominated by the Ulster support and could feel, in some ways, like a home match.

"Saracens have been a bit of a nomadic club in the recent past while they were waiting for their ground to be developed, although I sense they're not too worried about where this game is being played."

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