SARACENS 33 ULSTER 17
Saracens secured their place in the last eight of the European Champions Cup with a convincing display against Ulster.
The English Premiership side powered away from the Irish Province in the second half to secure another try scoring bonus point and secure a home quarter-final place.
Ulster will now probably need to take five match points against Oyonnax on Saturday, January 23, at Kingspan Stadium, to give themselves a realistic chance of making the last eight as one of the best runners-up of three from the five pools.
That will of course depend on how results go elsewhere over the remainder of this and next weekend.
Saracens drew first blood with an Owen Farrell penalty after just three minutes.
But Ulster stunned the hosts with the returning Jared Payne pulling the strings and being instrumental in the game/’s first try.
His neat grubber kick was straight into the path of centre Luke Marshall who gathered and crossed. Outhalf Paddy Jackson added the extras for a 7-3 lead to Ulster on five minutes.
The first scrum infringement saw Wiehahn Herbst pinged for when the Ulster front row went down, but Farrel’s 47m kick sailed just left off the target.
Saracens now had the momentum, but a foolish neck roll on Luke Marshall by Chris Ashton halted that temporarily.
An offisde at a maul on 20 minutes afforded Farrell another penalty opportunity and he made no mistake to leave Saracens trailing by a point.
Sarries continued to dominate but Farrell saw his fourth penalty attempt come off the left pole.
A high ball from Jackson had Saracens in trouble, and the fourth turnover of the game by the visitors saw them gain territory and a penalty.
The opted for touch, but an underthrow to Robbie Diack saw it turned over and the chance was gone.Farrell cleared and the hosts repeated the dose on Ulster’s lineout again.
A kick from Jackson behind the defence saw Wigglesworth caught out and when he failed to release the ball Jackson pushed his effort to the right of the posts and the score remained 6-7 after 32 minutes.
Saracens pressed to the corner again and after Ulster had done well to hold them, Diack pushed replacement prop Ricky Lutton (on for Herbst) into the mass of players. The penalty was put to touch and although Ulster held the initial drive off the lineout, the second surge saw Sarries power over and number eight Billy Vunipola.
Farrell landed a quality touchline conversion to send Saracens into the break leading 13-7.
Ulster started the second half strongly and a Jackson penalty made it 13-10 four minutes in.
But Farrell restored the six point buffer within four minutes, his penalty coming in off the post.
And the form club in Europe this season then really turned the screw.
Farrell produced a lovely skipping run to dash past Diack and send Duncan Taylor in for a lovely worked try on 53 minutes before the pack rallied and some powerful driving eventually saw Maro Itoje go over.
Farrell missed both conversion attempts.
Ulster had Craig Gilroy binned on 61 minutes as referee Jerome Garces ran out of patients at the maul, and a minute later Schalk Brits had crossed to secure the bonus point for Saracens. On this occasion Farrell made the extras and it was 33-10.
Ian Humphreys - who had come on for Jackson - grabbed an intercept try on 70 minutes, with Pienaar to reduce the deficit to 33-17 as Ulster searched for a losing bonus point - but it was all in vain.
Saracens: Ben Ransom; Chris Ashton, Marcelo Bosch, Brad Barritt (c), Chris Wyles; Owen Farrell, Richard Wigglesworth; Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, Petrus du Plessis, Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Michael Rhodes, Will Fraser, Billy Vunipola
Replacements: Schalk Brits, Richard Barrington, Juan Figallo, Jim Hamilton, Jackson Wray, Neil de Kock, Charlie Hodgson, Duncan Taylor
Ulster Rugby: Jared Payne; Andrew Trimble, Luke Marshall, Stuart McCloskey, Craig Gilroy; Paddy Jackson, Ruan Pienaar; Kyle McCall, Rory Best (c), Wiehahn Herbst, Alan O’Connor, Franco Van Der Merwe, Robbie Diack, Sean Reidy, Roger Wilson
Replacements: Rob Herring, Callum Black, Ricky Lutton, Lewis Stevenson, Clive Ross, Paul Marshall, Ian Humphreys, Rory Scholes