Ulster players celebrate at the final whistle at Ravenhill
Ulster scored a vital win in the context of Heineken Cup Pool Four on Friday night as a late Rory Best try helped them see off Saracens 19-10.
HEINEKEN CUP: POOL 4: Friday, December 9
ULSTER 19 SARACENS 10, Ravenhill (Att: 12,302)
Scorers: Ulster: Try: Rory Best; Con: David Humphreys; Pens: Humphreys 4
Saracens: Try: Glen Jackson; Con: Jackson; Pen: Jackson
Ravenhill roared to its rafters as Mark McCall's side came from behind to go temporarily top of Pool Four and maintain their 14-match unbeaten record in European competition at their Belfast base.
Biarritz Olympique regained top spot in the pool thanks to Sunday's 34-7 trouncing of Treviso, meaning Ulster are a single point behind the French side with Saracens, who welcome McCall's charges to Vicarage Road next Saturday (kick-off 1.00pm), a further point behind.
So still plenty of work for Ulster as they bid to qualify for the Heineken Cup's knock-out stages for the first time since 1999, the year of their title win. Friday's success proved as much about winning as robbing Sarries' of a bonus point at the death by virtue of David Humphreys' conversion of Best's try.
For 77 minutes, Mike Ford's visitors had held the lead at Ravenhill, but ten points in the space of two minutes from a hungry Ulster side saw Sarries, who included Ireland hooker Shane Byrne from the start, deprived in a sucker-punch finish.
In wet conditions, both sides adopted a kicking game from the off. Sarries' fly-half Glen Jackson missed a simple penalty shot on 10 minutes but more than made up for it four minutes later when he crossed for the opening try.
Flanker Ben Russell stole an Ulster lineout, the ball was recycled out to New Zealander Jackson and he evaded a poor tackle from Andrew Trimble to race in under the posts. Jackson converted and the Guinness Premiership outfit were then able to soak up some Ulster pressure which saw Jackson's countryman Paul Steinmetz almost wriggle over for a home try.
They did reply on 26 minutes through the boot of Humphreys and it stayed at 7-3 until half-time. Although Ulster were fortunate when French centre Thomas Castaignede knocked on with the try line in sight after a Jackson chip kick and Kevin Sorrell collect.
With the rain at their backs, Ulster stepped it up a gear on the restart, however their lineout problems persisted.
A chink of light arrived when number 8 Roger Wilson went on a stunning 50-metre break from a quickly tapped free kick, but from Steinmetz's resultant chip for the try line, centre Trimble was crowded out.
Humphreys did make it a one-point game on 56 minutes when he landed his second penalty from 40 metres. The Ulster number 10 then had a subsequent drop goal attempt charged down and the nip-and-tuck nature continued as, seven minutes later, Jackson slotted his first and only penalty.
Crucially, the tie swung in Ulster's favour when Sarries lost two players to the sin-bin in the closing fifteen minutes. First, Castaignede was carded by French referee Eric Darriere for a deliberate knock-on with Ulster on the attack deep inside the visitors' 22. Humphreys cracked over his third penalty for 10-9.
Replacement hooker Matt Cairns then followed Castaigneded into the bin when he was blatantly offside as Ulster, helped by a sizeable break from Trimble, went in search of a try. Humphreys made him pay with another penalty and Ulster were finally in front - 12-10.
Their try finally came on 78 minutes when Sarries' right winger Paul Bailey lost control of an Isaac Boss punt forward and hooker Best was in the right place at the right time to gobble up possession and score.
Humphreys showed nerves of steel to pop the conversion over from the right touchline and Ravenhill went into raptures. A vital try, a vital kick and just desserts for a committed team performance.
Interestingly, all three Bests - Rory, his prop brother Simon and unrelated flanker Neil - have now scored tries in this season's Heineken Cup. Indeed, of Ulster's seven tries to date, only one has been scored by a back - Ireland centre Kevin Maggs against Treviso in October.
One piece of bad news eminating from Friday's win was the rib injury sustained by Ulster flanker Neil McMillan, who will sits out Monday's training session in a bid to be fit for next weekend.
14 minutes - Saracens try: Glen Jackson - 0-5; conversion: Jackson - 0-7
26 mins - Ulster penalty: David Humphreys - 3-7
HT - Ulster 3 Saracens 7
56 mins - Ulster penalty: David Humphreys - 6-7
63 mins - Saracens penalty: Glen Jackson - 6-10
71 mins - Saracens yellow card: Thomas Castaignede
72 mins - Ulster penalty: David Humphreys - 9-10
76 mins - Saracens yellow card: Matt Cairns
77 mins - Ulster penalty: David Humphreys - 12-10
78 mins - Ulster try: Rory Best - 17-10; conversion: David Humphreys - 19-10
FT - Ulster 19 Saracens 10
ULSTER: Bryn Cunningham; Tommy Bowe, Kevin Maggs, Andrew Trimble, Paul Steinmetz; David Humphreys, Kieran Campbell; Bryan Young, Rory Best, Simon Best (capt), Justin Harrison, Matt McCullough, Neil Best, Neil McMillan, Roger Wilson.
Replacements used: Stephen Ferris for McMillan (half-time), Isaac Boss for Campbell (73). Not used: Nigel Brady, Rod Moore, Ryan Caldwell, Adam Larkin, James Topping.
SARACENS: Dan Scarbrough; Paul Bailey, Thomas Castaignede, Kevin Sorrell, Tevita Vaikona; Glen Jackson, Kyran Bracken; Kevin Yates, Shane Byrne, Cobus Visagie, Simon Raiwalui, Kris Chesney, Hugh Vyvyan, Ben Russell, Ben Skirving.
Replacements used: Matt Cairns for Byrne, Ben Broster for Yates (both 65 mins), Mark Bartholomeusz for Sorrell (70), Ben J Russell for Vaikona (73), David Seymour for Skirving (80). Not used: Andrew Kyriacou, Alan Dickens.
Sin Bin: Thomas Castaignede (Saracens) (71), Matt Cairns (Saracens) (76).
Referee: Eric Darriere (France)