‘Mark-ing’ time over for Anscombe and McCall as Euro D-Day arrives

Mark Anscombe pictured as they preview their Heineken Cup match against Saracens
Mark Anscombe pictured as they preview their Heineken Cup match against Saracens

Opposing coaches, Mark Anscombe and Mark McCall, drew their battle lines on Friday when they announced their teams to square-off in Saturday evening’s historic Ravenhill Heineken Cup quarter-final tie between Ulster and Saracens.

Home Union advantage for the semi-finals is just one incentive for both clubs - but they are also keen to progress their European pedigree in what will be the final Heineken Cup tournament in this format.

Ulster will make their debut bow in front of a record crowd in the new redeveloped Ravenhill - capacity just over 17,000 today - as they look to continue their 100 per cent record in this season’s Heineken Cup.

Both clubs have shown rapid progress on the European front in recent years. This will be Ulster’s fourth consecutive quarter-final appearance while Saracens are bidding to make the semi-finals for successive season and the third time in five years.

The Aviva Premiership club, whose director of rugby, Mark McCall, was head coach of Ulster when they won the Celtic League in 2006 and was of course a member of the famous 1999 European Cup winning squad, missing out on playing because of an injury sustained during the campaign.

McCall plotted Ulster’s downfall at Twickenham last season when the under-cooked Irish Province were second best in most facets.

Anscombe admitted Ulster were still hurting from the defeat last year to the current English Premiership leaders.

“We know we could have done better last year and that is something which is driving us this year,” he said.

“Some people have referred to revenge for last year’s defeat, this is not about revenge.

“We want to go out there and show why we are a top eight team.

“There are eight teams left who can the cup this year. We are one of them.

“We want to be one of the four left are this weekend. Saracens will come here and want to do the same.

“Whatever happens on Saturday, win or lose, as long as we come off the park knowing that we gave it everything and no one can second guess, or we are sitting here next week with a host of ‘ifs and whys’ then we can say we gave it our best but we were beaten by a better team, I can ask no more.”

McCall is not allowing the emotion of returning to his Ravenhill roots to get in the way of his preparations.

“We are preparing for Ulster at their best with their best available players.

“We are ready for the challenge and everyone involved in the club is relishing the challenge of going to play the top seeds in Europe and in one of the toughest places to win - Ravenhill.

“We need to elevate our performance if we are to get the win,” he added.