McCall leaves Ravenhill happy and frustrated

Saracens' Chris Ashton scores a try
Saracens' Chris Ashton scores a try

Saracens coach Mark McCall was a relieved man to leave Belfast with a 17-15 victory over his former team Ulster that puts his Saracens side into the semi-finals of the Heineken Cup for the third time.

It was the second season in a row that the English Premiership leaders had beaten Ulster in the quarter-finals of Europe’s top tournament and McCall fully realised the result could have gone either way, even though the home side played for 75 minutes with 14 men.

“We were just lucky to get over the line at the end,” said the Saracens director of rugby, who had led Ulster to the Celtic League title in 2006.

“I think Ulster deserve an unbelievable amount of credit for what happened out there,” said the Saracens director of rugby.

“To lose a man after five minutes and not only to show the effort that they showed - which was incredible - but to be as tactically astute and smart as they were, was a brilliant achievement.

“The thing that we are most disappointed in is at times we played some good rugby and at times our effort and our physicality was outstanding.

“But we kept on undoing a lot of good work with some unbelievable indiscipline.

“We gave away too many penalties and gave them field position for free.

“We kept them in the game, kept the crowd in the game and we were fortunate to get away with the win,” he said.

It was a different Ravenhill McCall was returning to after his spell as coach.

A newly developed ground with a new capacity crowd of just over 17,000 for this first home quarter-final in Belfast since 1999, meant much more noise from the home supporters.

“This is a fantastic facility now and a credit to this club,” said McCall.

“A lot of our players had never faced something as hostile as that Ravenhill crowd.

“We were comfortable defensively, we weren’t under that much pressure, we were up three tries to nil, but we kept on giving them shots at goal and they chipped away at us.

“While we did a lot of good things in the game we are just grateful to get through to the next stage.”

As for the red card decision - Jared Payne sent off for an in-air collision with Alex Goode, McCall said: “It definitely wasn’t intentional (Payne’s collision) but it was reckless.

“You could argue both ways, but it’s a big call to make five minutes into the match and it changes the match.

“Alex (Goode) is okay, he is up walking about again.”

Saracens’ reward for winning away from home is a ‘home’ semi-final at Twickenham Stadium against ASM Clermont Auvergne, who made Leicester Tigers their 75th successive home ‘scalp’ earlier in the day.

Clermont beat Saracens in the quarter-finals at Vicarage Road two years ago.