Saracens v Ulster Rugby | Saturday 16 January | Allianz Park | 17:10
Saracens will go into their game with Ulster this weekend on the verge of qualification to the knockout stage of the tournament. Their opponents - who currently lie in second position in Pool 1- will also be looking to advance their qualification chances by becoming only the second team to defeat the mighty Wolf Pack this season.
Let’s see if we can find out who will come out on top when the teams square off at Allianz Park on Saturday, shall we.
To Win (80 Mins)
Saracens (-11.5) 9/10
Ulster (+11.5) 9/10
Saries' amazing unbeaten streak - which saw them win 15 out of 15 games - was ended by Harlequins last weekend. The Aviva Premiership Champions elect traveled to Harlequins for one of the most anticipated London derbies in recent years. Despite playing in less than ideal conditions, Saracens managed to dominate the first twenty minutes of the game and were six points up heading into the final five minutes of the half. However, a late try, courtesy of Quins' eight, Jack Clifford, saw the hosts steal into a one point lead moments before the halftime whistle.
Two early penalties from Saries' ten Owen Farrell saw the away side move five points clear heading into the final quarter of the game. At this point I thought Saracens would canter to the win, however, a moment of madness from replacement prop, Rhys Gill, would see the visitors go down to 14 men. Quins replacement flyhalf, Been Botica slotted three penalties in the wake of the sending off but an Owen Farrell penalty ensured Saracens would hold a one-point lead heading into the final ten minutes of the game.
The away side was always going to struggle to keep their fired up opponents from crossing the whitewash. And despite some brave defending, the visitors would eventually have their line breached by former Reds lock, James Horwill. The late try saw Quins win the game 29-23 and end Saracens' record-breaking unbeaten run.
The domestic loss shouldn’t affect Saries too badly, though. They’re an extremely experienced side who know the brand of rugby they play is a successful one. They also have a nice cushion at the top of Pool 1, so they don’t need to chase tries. With this in mind, I expect that Saracens will play the territory game this weekend. Owen Farell’s tactical kicking has been flawless this season. He’ll look to stick the ball as deep into the Ulster 22 as possible in a bid to force his opponents to run from deep.
Saracens' head coach, Mark McCall, is yet to announce his side but I expect the former Irish international, will name a very different looking starting fifteen to the one that went down to the Harlequins last weekend. The first change I can foresee is at inside centre where Duncan Taylor is likely to make way for Brad Barritt. While in the forward pack, I expect Jim Hamilton to switch to number five in place of the injured George Kruis while Maro Itoje will come in at number four.
Ulster were involved in one of the most memorable comebacks in the history of the Champions Cup last weekend. Trailing by 23 points to Oyonnax at the halftime break, the Irish side responded by scoring 24 unanswered second half points and claimed a vital victory that has kept them in contention for the next phase of the Champions Cup.
That win has left them in a very handy spot in Pool 1. The Irish giants are eight points ahead of third-placed Toulouse and are well placed to be awarded progression to the next round as one of the best group runners-up. An upset victory over Saries this weekend will all but seal their place in the next round.
If they are to do this, then they’re going to have to up their game tenfold. They were extremely impressive in the second stanza last week but Saracens won’t allow the game to develop into a sevens match.
So how do Ulster go about beating the best team in Europe this season? Well, as I mentioned earlier, they can’t throw the ball around, as Saracens aren’t a team who misses tackles. Ulster will probably have to play their usual game, which is based around kicking for territory, and hope Saries have an off day.
Like his opposite number, Ulster coach, Neil Doak, is yet to announce his matchday squad. The only change that I'm certain he'll make is to bring Ruan Pienaar into the starting line-up in place of Paul Marshall.
Verdict: Saracens 9/10 (-11.5)
I honestly can’t see a team featuring Ruan Pienaar and an aging Louis Ludick giving Saries any trouble. Back the homes side to bounce back from their first loss of the season with a big victory at the Allianz.
Bet on this match now at Hollywoodbets.net! Haven’t got an account? Open one here now