EUROPEAN CHAMPIONS CUP: Ulster are happy with underdogs tag going into Saracens challenge

Ulster analyst and skills coach Niall Malone
Ulster analyst and skills coach Niall Malone

Ulster are happy to wear the underdogs tag this weekend when they face Saracens in their penultimate pool game in the European Champions Cup according to analyst and skills coach Niall Malone this week.

The Irish Province travelled to France last weekend for their rescheduled round one game against Oyonnax as firm favourites.

But they were left shell-shocked by the Top 14 side who scored 23 points in the first half.

Ulster staged an amazing comeback and went on to win the game 24-23 to keep their hopes of reaching the last eight in Europe within reach.

Saracens remain favourites to top the pool in spite of having to go to Toulouse for the last round of fixtures.

But Ulster can put some pressure on the English Premiership side by upsetting the odds at Allianz Park.

“We expected to win on Sunday and I guess we would have hoped to take a bonus point from that as well,” admitted Malone.

“We also expected Saracens to defeat Harlequins in the Aviva Premiership as well.

“But they lost their first game of the season.

“We are aware of the track record we have against Saracens, but that does not make it less likely we can win this weekend.

“We have real respect for how good they are and we want to be respected as a good team as well.

“If we could outplay or beat a team regarded so highly it gives us huge credit and that is our focus for this weekend.

“I think it is easier to focus for the better teams.

“We are underdogs this weekend but we feel we are in a really good position to play like underdogs with the players we have and some fresh faces coming back in.

“We have a good chance,” added Malone.

In terms of the mathematics of qualification, Ulster are currently six points behind Saracens.

All five pool winners go through to the last eight automatically and are joined by the three best runners-up.

That is probably the realistic target for the Irish Province - unless they were to win with a bonus point tomorrow.

Malone admitted that even though the side had got out of jail last week in France, the victory also felt like a point lost.

“However at half time it was looking like five points lost so we regained four of them,” he said.

“Last year a team got through on 17 points. We are on 13 and only based on last year 17 could be enough, but if you look at the tables I do not really think it would be enough.

“If we can win this weekend then so be it, if we cannot, then we would hope it would be with a losing bonus point.

“I still think we could get enough out of the final game against Oyonnax to get through.

“But it all guesswork at the moment, we just have to focus on what we can do.”

Having lost to Munster at home in the PRO12 two weeks ago and spluttering through the first half against Oyonnax on Sunday, Malone believes the way the team performed in the second half gave them confidence and belief.

“We have taken massive confidence from that second half,” said Malone.

“It is funny where momentum comes from. That second half performance has given us huge momentum.

“At the team meetings this week there is a great attitude. There is a good buzz about.

“If we had lost the game on Sunday it would have been dreadful this week.

“We have to take that belief with us this weekend.”