Match Report: Ulster Rugby 9-27 Saracens

championscupUlster fell to their first home defeat for a year as they lost their opening Champions’ Cup match 27-9 to Aviva Premiership side Saracens and surrendered a try bonus point to their opponents as well.

Despite being down to fourteen men twice in the game, the visitors were by far the better team and battled back from 9-0 down early on through Chris Wyles, Alex Goode and Duncan Taylor tries with Billy Vunipola getting the bonus point try with the last play.

Ulster had raced into an early lead courtesy of nine points from the boot of Paddy Jackson, but they made too many errors and paid the price for some very slack defence which gave up four tries.

The game started controversially though and in the most ironic fashion as after just four minutes Saracens’ Michael Rhodes clearly took Andrew Trimble out in the air and, although bearing remarkable similarities to Jared Payne’s red card in the previous meeting, Rhodes controversially only saw yellow.

Ruan Pienaar and Owen Farrell both saw penalty efforts fall short during the sin bin period before Paddy Jackson broke the deadlock with his first penalty of the night just before Rhodes’ return.

Despite the game being back to equal numbers, Ulster were still on the front foot and they put themselves more than a try ahead with two more three pointers from Jackson, a drop goal and another penalty.

But for all their dominance, Ulster were powerless to stop Saracens when they made their way into their 22 and with the Ulster forwards sucked in the ball was flung wide to winger Chris Wyles who had a free run in to score on half an hour.

Farrell missed the conversion, and then missed a penalty just before the break too to continue his horrid night with the boot, the England fly-half guilty of passing up eight points in the first half alone.

After the break it was Saracens who had most of the territory, but they could not break through a resurgent Ulster defence, despite Chris Ashton coming very close only to knock it on at the line.

Then came another moment of controversy as Billy Vunipola was found guilty of shoulder charging Iain Henderson – another yellow card from referee Poite that could have been more.

But despite being a man down, Saracens picked up their second try of the game and took the lead with twenty minutes to go as a chip kick through from Alex Goode was gathered by Duncan Taylor who fed Goode on the inside to score.

And still with a man down Saracens picked up a third try through centre Taylor, as fly-half Owen Farrell dummied the ball for a drop goal and broke through before setting Taylor over for the try.

The visitors were by now in full command and went in search of the bonus point try, however they instead settled for Farrell’s first penalty of the night as they looked to secure the win first and foremost.

But they would get the fourth try and after Rory Best was sin binned for repeated infringements, Saracens were able to power over a driving maul at the death which Billy Vunipola touched down from for the bonus point score.

Ulster are back in PRO12 action next week against interprovincial rivals Leinster at the RDS Arena and the Ulster coaching staff will undoubtedly be looking for a reaction to this result.


The scorers 

For Ulster

Pens: Jackson (2)

DG: Jackson

For Saracens

Tries: Wyles, Goode, Taylor, B Vunipola

Cons: Farrell, Hodgson

Pen: Farrell



(15-9) Louis Ludik (Peter Nelson 73), Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, Stuart McCloskey, Craig Gilroy, Paddy Jackson (Ian Humphreys 70), Ruan Pienaar (Paul Marshall 75); (1-8) Callum Black (Kyle McCall 57), Rory Best, Wiehahn Herbst (Ricky Lutton 70), Dan Tuohy, Franco van der Merwe (Robbie Diack 66), Iain Henderson, Chris Henry (Roger Wilson 66), Nick Williams (Rob Herring 66).

Yellow card: Rory Best (79’)


(15-9) Alex Goode, Chris Ashton, Duncan Taylor (Marcelo Bosch 70), Brad Barritt (Charlie Hodgson 76), Chris Wyles, Owen Farrell, Richard Wigglesworth (Neil de Kock 76); (1-8) Mako Vunipola (Rhys Gill 75), Schalk Brits (Jamie George 51), Petrus du Plessis (Juan Figallo 76), George Kruis, Maro Itoje (Alistair Hargreaves 76), Michael Rhodes (Jackson Wray 57), Jacques Burger, Billy Vunipola.

Yellow card: Michael Rhodes (3’), Billy Vunipola (54’)


Man of the Match: Mako Vunipola (Saracens)

Referee: Romain Poite (Fra)