Sunday 20 August 2017

Cave reveals Ulster are on Saracens revenge mission

Saracens have impressed Darren Cave
Saracens have impressed Darren Cave

Nigel Whittaker

Ulster will be out for revenge when Saracens visit Kingspan Stadium on Friday night but Darren Cave has warned the side must still focus on themselves rather than the opposition.

After Saturday's scheduled contest with Oyonnax was postponed in light of the Paris terror attacks the previous night, the visit from the London club represents the opening Champions Cup clash of the year for Les Kiss' side and a first meeting between the pair since Ulster suffered successive Heineken Cup quarter-final defeats in 2013 and '14.

When former Ulsterman Mark McCall last brought his side to Belfast two seasons ago, Jared Payne was shown a red card after just four minutes following an aerial challenge with Alex Goode and the hosts were left to battle in vain to a 17-15 defeat.

"I wouldn't say we owe them one, we owe them two," reflected Cave. "We don't need any motivation but at the same time we know how good they are."

While Ulster's players were in the air on the way back from France when Saracens were defeating an understandably subdued Toulouse side to the tune of 32 points to seven on Saturday evening, Cave noted the scale of the achievement.

"Running up 32 points against Toulouse is impressive but we knew already how good a side they were.

"For us, we'll obviously not need to freshen up physically but maybe mentally after what's been a strange weekend and come in at the start of the week to get ready for a big game."

Before the tragic events in the French capital, excitement in Oyonnax surrounding what would have been the Top 14 outfit's first game in Europe's premier competition was palpable, especially among local youths when the likes of Ruan Pienaar and Wiehahn Herbst joined them in the street for some kicking practice.

"Obviously we're just happy the decision was taken out of our hands. It was nothing to do with us, but they made the right decision," Cave admitted.

"From a player's point of view it's obviously frustrating but at the end of the day sometimes there are more important things than 80 minutes of rugby and it wouldn't really have felt right to go ahead."

The organisers of the European Champions Cup and Challenge Cup competitions, European Professional Club Rugby, hope to announce new dates in the next few days for the five matches in France postponed over the weekend in the aftermath of the Paris terror attacks.

All concerned are likely to want to avoid playing in a midweek slot that creates problems with players' recovery times as well as for supporters and broadcasters.

But with every weekend filled in the fixture schedule from now until the European knockout stage in April, it would need the 10 clubs affected to rearrange a domestic league match. The European pool games are due to be completed in January.

A small group of Ulster supporters who had made it from Belfast to Oyonnax left a bilingual message on a club flag taped to the Charles-Mathon Stadium wall, inscribed: "Respect for Paris et tous les Français."

Ulster's team manager, Bryn Cunningham, summed up the general attitude, saying: "There are much more important things in the world than rugby. It has been a devastating series of events and our thoughts and prayers are with the French public and everyone who is so tragically affected."

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