In spite of securing a second try scoring bonus point victory over his former club, Ulster, Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall said the Irish Province’s defence as being one of the best they had faced this season.
Saracens won Saturday’s penultimate Pool One encounter 33-17 at Allianz Park, scoring four tries as they did in Belfast in November, and the victory secures them a home quarter-final in the knockout stages of the European Champions Cup.
McCall’s men are 11 points clear of Ulster at the summit of Pool One after a second half demolition of Ulster saw them score four tries to build on their 13-7 interval lead.
The defeat for Ulster leaves them needing to probably take all five match points available at Kingspan Stadium, Belfast, on Saturday, January 23, when they face Oyonnax and then hope other results from this and next week’s games can go in their favour.
That could see them through to the last eight as one of the three best runners-up across the final Pools.
Owen Farrell was named man of the match in front of England head coach Eddie Jones, despite an off day from the kicking tee that saw him miss four of his nine shots at goal.
Farrell’s vision and athleticism were the source of the 53rd-minute try scored by Duncan Taylor that swept the match beyond Ulster’s reach and the 24-year-old is expected to start the RBS 6 Nations opener against Scotland at inside centre.
Billy Vunipola, Taylor, Maro Itoje and Schalk Brits helped themselves to tries as Saracens secured a home quarter-final despite having one game left to play, in Toulouse on Saturday.
“I thought Owen was brilliant, he was outstanding. When he missed kicks....he just puts it behind him and then gets the next one over,” McCall said.
“Ulster had probably the best defence we’ve come up against all season. It took everything we had to break them down.
“To score four tries against them was a big achievement. It was a good win for us,” McCall said.
Ulster head coach Les Kiss admitted his team were taught a lesson at Allianz Park and feels Saracens are the greatest threat to Toulon’s reign as champions.
“We’re extremely disappointed, to tell you the truth. They teach us a lesson each time we play them. There is a ruthless efficiency about them,” Kiss said.
“At the beginning of the season I said the one team that will challenge Toulon will be Saracens. Each week my belief in that statement becomes stronger.”