Roger Wilson is hoping to go one step further in the Heineken Cup than he did when he got to the final with the Northampton Saints in 2011.
It looks like a case of deja vu for Wilson. Three years ago the Saints won all six pool games had home advantage in the quarter and semi final before going to Cardiff for the final when thy inexplicitly blew a 22-6 half time lead against Leinster.
This season Ulster topped their pool by winning all six games, have home advantage against Saracens in the last eight and victory would mean home advantage at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin for the semi final and the decider is in Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.
“If all goes to plan hopefully it will be the same with winning the final this time, not many teams win all six group games and that shows how tough the competition is so to do that first and foremost is brilliant,” said Wilson.
“It gives us a home quarter final but you wind back 12 months and it’s the same team we are playing, at the end of the day it’s just a different pitch there isn’t too much different about the squad so we have to be aware that being a home isn’t going to see us through or give us that big an advantage.”
No side have won all six group games and won the tournament although the Saints came close.
“We should have won. We were 16 points up at half time it is one of those halves of rugby that you’d really erase from your memory, nobody has done it but records are there to be broken so eventually so team is going to do it and with a bit of luck it will be us this year.”
Wilson was part of the Ulster side that won the Celtic League in 2006 under Mark McCall and has also come up against him in the Premiership.
“Saracens have a great coaching staff and they have a lot of numbers in it, they share the work load well and Mark takes the leadership over it and oversees everything.”
“You can see the way he implemented the style and game plan that they want to play, they do the basics very well so say they are not overly flashy but do you need to be at times, they have a strong set piece and they are renowned for their kick chase.”
“They are a very difficult side to break down and that is how they have had their success in the last few years.”
“I think I had a couple of years with Mark, in his first season we won the Celtic League and everything was great then it took a turn for the worst a year after and we were at the bottom end of the league and won’t performing well in Europe and things started to fall apart and it was a difficult time for the coaches and everyone.”
“I don’t think it worked out and we had pretty inexperienced coaches, without laying the blame on them we didn’t have the same squad that we do now or the same finances, so it was difficult for them at the time, Mark has gone away and been hugely successful and I’m sure he has grown since then.”
“He’ll want to come back here and put one over on Ulster as well.”
Wilson missed last year’s last eight clash at Twickenham and he was as frustrated as everyone else with the result and Ulster’s performance.
“I got injured in the week before it in the Leinster game so I missed out, I think we give a pretty poor reflection of ourselves and we are better than we showed on the day.”
“We have had a good look at the video from last year on where we can improve and where we let ourselves down and make sure those things don’t happen again.”
“There were a few boys that had injuries before it and had only just came back which didn’t help going into a huge intense game, this year we don’t have that excuse.”
Saracens are seven points clear at the top of the English Premiership and Wilson Knows Ulster must be at their very best to progress to the last four.
“Farrell is a kicking machine and he doesn’t miss many so discipline is going to have to be squeaky clean, they have a solid scrum and a good driving maul, their lineout is good and Steve Borthwick spends many hours looking at the opposition lineout finding out there weakness and he is invaluable.”
“We have to start at the set piece and that was probably one of the disappointing areas where we didn’t front up last year and even last weekend our defensive maul was very poor so we’ve done a lot of work on that and everyone is aware of how much of an improvement we need to make on that.”
“The kick a fair amount of ball so we have to make sure we get support for our back three and try not to let them through so the little things make a big difference and they have strong runners that we’ll have to put on the deck early and stop them getting momentum.”
“They don’t play a lot of rugby in their own half, you just want to put as much pressure on them as possible, when you look at the games they have lost in Europe and the Premiership they were targeted at the breakdown, physically they were beaten so we are going to have to that this weekend.”
“We just need to make sure we hold onto the ball and make sure our breakdown is solid, Saracens don’t have many weaknesses so it is difficult to say this is where we are going to target them.
It’s Ulster first quarter at home since they beat Toulouse in 1999 a night Wilson remembers fondly.
“These are the games you just love playing and they only come around a few times a year, the last quarter final we had at home was 99 and I was in the crowd watching and I remember that day it was an incredible atmosphere, the crowd will be buzzing and just because you’re a bit older it does affect you any less.”