Wednesday 18 September 2019

'Ulster are one of the best sides in Europe' - Saracens boss Mark McCall aiming for Kingspan win

Saracens boss Mark McCall
Saracens boss Mark McCall

Andrew Baldock

Saracens will take a giant stride towards the European Champions Cup quarter-finals if they beat Ulster in Belfast on Friday.

It might only be the second game of six on Saracens' Pool One schedule, but after easily defeating four-time European champions Toulouse last weekend, another win would put daylight between them and their group rivals.

"Ulster are a team that we know very well," Saracens rugby director Mark McCall said.

"They are one of the best in Europe, and we've had some classic battles with them in recent years.

"I know how tough a place the Kingspan Stadium can be when it's rocking on a European night, so to be facing them is a real challenge for us, but one that we are all very excited by."

McCall has made two changes from the side that saw off Toulouse 32-7, with hooker Schalk Brits replacing Jamie George and flanker Jacques Burger returning after suspension to pack down in the back-row alongside Michael Rhodes and Billy Vunipola.

Reflecting on the Toulouse win, McCall added: "We have got to be delighted with how we played in that first-half. I thought it was outstanding.

"Our energy was brilliant, our defence was brilliant and our attack was really good. We probably left a couple of tries out there in the first 20 minutes of the match."

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Ulster's game against Champions Cup newcomers Oyonnax last Saturday was among a number of games in France postponed due to the Paris terror attacks, and they will now launch their European campaign boosted by fit-again Ireland international forward Iain Henderson's return.

Henderson has been sidelined since suffering a hand injury during Ireland's World Cup quarter-final defeat against Argentina in Cardiff last month, but he will feature at blindside flanker.

Assessing Saracens' challenge, Ulster number eight Nick Williams said: "They have a very physical pack, they like to play a direct style and they are always tough to play against.

"You look for a weakness in their team, but you struggle to find one."

The second-tier European Challenge Cup also continues on Friday, meanwhile, with Edinburgh - fresh from a comfortable victory over Grenoble last week - visiting Agen and Montpellier hosting Calvisano.

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