Together they lifted the European Cup for Ulster back at Lansdowne Road on that famous day in January 1999, but David Humphreys and Mark McCall will put their friendship on hold for 80 minutes today as their respective Ulster and Saracens sides battle it out for a prized semi-final spot.
HEINEKEN CUP QUARTER-FINAL: Saturday, April 6
SARACENS v ULSTER, Twickenham, 6.30pm (live Sky Sports 1/HD1/3D/Canal+/Sky Italia/BBC Radio Ulster/Newstalk/highlights TG4)
Team News: Ulster winger Tommy Bowe has recovered from injury to be named in their matchday squad for Saturday’s Heineken Cup quarter-final clash with Saracens at Twickenham.
The fit-again Bowe has not played since he suffered knee ligament damage against Northampton Saints in December. He is listed among the province’s replacements for the Saracens match.
All Blacks tighthead prop John Afoa returns to the starting line-up after missing the derby win over Leinster as he was in New Zealand for the birth of his third child.
There are two further changes to the team that recorded Ulster’s first win in Dublin since 1999, with young Ireland internationals Iain Henderson and Luke Marshall both earning starting berths.
Henderson is preferred at blindside flanker to Robbie Diack who drops to the bench, while Marshall starts at inside centre having recovered from the concussion that he sustained playing for Ireland against Italy in the RBS 6 Nations.
Commenting on the return of Bowe, Ulster head coach Mark Anscombe said: “Tommy has trained very well. He is champing at the bit to get out there – he has missed a lot of rugby and he wants to play.
“We want to accommodate him because he is a world class player. It is a credit to our head of strength and conditioning Jonny Davis and to Gareth Robinson, Alan McCaldin and the rest of our medical staff that he is ready.”
Looking ahead to the game, Anscombe added: “We’re playing in the quarter-final of a great competition, at one of the best grounds in rugby, against the side leading the Aviva Premiership and there’s going to be a big crowd. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
More than 35,000 tickets have been sold for the match. Tickets are still available via Ticketmaster. Tickets can also be purchased on matchday at the RFU ticket office at Twickenham from 2pm.
Meanwhile, current Aviva Premiership leaders Saracens welcome back Brad Barritt, David Strettle, Schalk Brits, Matt Stevens, Alistair Hargreaves and Kelly Brown to their matchday squad after last weekend’s league win at London Wasps.
The selected team shows three changes to the side that started the round 4 victory over Munster in the pool stages, with prop Mako Vunipola, lock Hargreaves and number 8 Ernst Joubert all being promoted.
Former Ulster captain and head coach Mark McCall, who is in his third year as Saracens director of rugby, said: “Ulster have players all over the pitch who are capable of winning games on both the domestic and international stage.
“In the past two seasons, they have been one of the form teams in Europe and of course, reached the final of this competition last season – so we are fully aware of the size of the challenge ahead of us.
“We go into the game in a good place in both the Premiership and a home quarter-final in Europe.
“Twickenham is a familiar venue as many of our squad have played here frequently in recent years and of course, several of the team were also in action here just a few weeks ago in the Six Nations – so everyone is really looking forward to the occasion.”
SARACENS: Alex Goode; Chris Ashton, Joel Tomkins, Brad Barritt, David Strettle; Owen Farrell, Richard Wigglesworth; Mako Vunipola, Schalk Brits, Matt Stevens, Steve Borthwick (capt), Alistair Hargreaves, Kelly Brown, Will Fraser, Ernst Joubert.
Replacements: John Smit, Rhys Gill, Petrus du Plessis, Mouritz Botha, Jackson Wray, Neil de Kock, Charlie Hodgson, Chris Wyles.
ULSTER: Jared Payne; Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, Luke Marshall, Craig Gilroy; Paddy Jackson, Ruan Pienaar; Tom Court, Rory Best, John Afoa, Johann Muller (capt), Dan Tuohy, Iain Henderson, Chris Henry, Nick Williams.
Replacements: Rob Herring, Callum Black, Ricky Lutton, Robbie Diack, Mike McComish, Paul Marshall, Stuart Olding, Tommy Bowe.
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant Referees: Leighton Hodges (Wales), Cedric Marchat (France)
Television Match Official: Eric Gauzins (France)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Saracens to win: 8/15; Draw: 22/1; Ulster to win: 13/8
Pre-Match Quotes: Iain Henderson (Ulster) – “I’ve never been to Twickenham but the boys are saying it is quite a nice stadium to play at and it’ss maybe not as loud as some of the ones I’ve played at like the Millennium Stadium during the Six Nations.
“Saracens are a top class side, they will challenge your defence, they will challenge you at scrum time and set piece.
“I have a few memories (of the 1999 European Cup success) but nothing substantial, I couldn’t tell you anything about the match but I’ve watched it since.
“I remember a bit of fuss about the house and not really understanding what was happening on the TV. It’s good to be involved this year and getting through to the knockout stages.
“It was brilliant (to win against Leinster last week), I came off the bench after 54 minutes. It was such a performance in the first half and we had bullied them off the ball, the last 15 minutes was as nail-biting for us as it was for then supporters.
“(A try) was bound to come to me the amount of time I was out there (on the wing). I got a bit of room, then Ian Madigan came across and I dotted down just in time. It was awesome play from Ruan (Pienaar) who spotted there was a gap and found me.”
John Smit (Saracens) – “I think Ulster have built a good team over the last few years. They have similar structures and similar methods in how they approach competitions, they have quite a deep squad and they have had guys returning from injury and international commitments.
“Physically they are very difficult to approach from a set piece point of view – their set piece is very strong and provides them with a solid base off which to play, and with a game breaker like Pienaar at scrum half they are a very dangerous opposition.
“But they have people who can turn games all over the pitch, so we can’t just focus on one player. We have to be aware of every single threat they pose and work harder than we have done all season if we are to get the result we want.”
Current Form – Saracens – (Aviva Premiership): Won 40-3 at home to London Irish; Won 23-16 away to Sale Sharks; Drew 9-9 at home to Leicester Tigers; Lost 14-12 away to Exeter Chiefs; Won 18-16 away to Harlequins; Won 28-23 away to London Welsh; (Heineken Cup): Won 45-0 away to Edinburgh; Won 30-13 at home to Racing Metro 92; (Aviva Premiership): Won 16-3 away to Northampton Saints; Won 29-24 at home to London Wasps; (LV= Cup): Won 38-21 at home to Leicester Tigers; Lost 25-23 away to Sale Sharks; (Aviva Premiership): Lost 12-3 away to Worcester Warriors; Won 28-23 at home to Gloucester; (Heineken Cup): Lost 15-9 away to Munster; Won 19-13 at home to Munster; (Aviva Premiership): Won 22-0 away to Bath; Won 17-16 away to Northampton Saints; Won 32-12 away to Sale Sharks; (Heineken Cup): Won 37-28 away to Racing Metro 92; Won 40-7 at home to Edinburgh; (LV= Cup): Won 19-11 at home to the Cardiff Blues; Won 22-12 away to Worcester Warriors; (Aviva Premiership): Lost 29-13 away to London Irish; Won 31-11 at home to Exeter Chiefs; Won 32-27 away to Leicester Tigers; Won 35-14 at home to London Welsh; (LV= Cup semi-final): Lost 21-18 away to Sale Sharks; (Aviva Premiership): Won 27-12 at home to Harlequins; Won 22-13 away to London Wasps
Ulster – (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 18-10 at home to Glasgow Warriors; Won 16-13 away to the Ospreys; Won 20-19 at home to Munster; Won 48-19 away to the Cardiff Blues; Won 25-0 at home to Connacht; (Heineken Cup): Won 41-17 at home to Castres Olympique; Won 19-8 away to Glasgow Warriors; (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 46-19 away to the Newport Gwent Dragons; Won 45-20 at home to Edinburgh; Won 27-25 away to Zebre; Won 16-15 away to Benetton Treviso; Won 19-12 away to the Scarlets; (Heineken Cup): Won 25-6 away to Northampton Saints; Lost 10-9 at home to Northampton Saints; (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 27-19 at home to Leinster; Lost 24-10 away to Munster; Won 47-17 at home to the Scarlets; (Heineken Cup): Won 23-6 at home to Glasgow Warriors; Won 9-8 away to Castres Olympique; (RaboDirect PRO12): Lost 16-12 at home to the Ospreys; Won 26-3 at home to Zebre; Lost 20-14 away to Glasgow Warriors; Drew 29-29 at home to Benetton Treviso; Lost 14-8 away to Edinburgh; Won 22-18 away to Leinster
Top Scorers – 2012/13 Heineken Cup: Saracens – Points: Owen Farrell 75; Tries: Chris Ashton, Chris Wyles 3 each; Ulster – Points: Paddy Jackson 49; Tries: Paul Marshall, Andrew Trimble, Jared Payne 2 each
Previous European Meetings: 4
Saturday, December 17, 2005 – Pool 4 – Saracens 18 Ulster 10, Vicarage Road
Friday, December 9, 2005 – Pool 4 – Ulster 19 Saracens 10, Ravenhill
Friday, January 19, 2001 – Pool 3 – Ulster 13 Saracens 21, Ravenhill
Sunday, October 15, 2000 – Pool 3 – Saracens 55 Ulster 25, Vicarage Road
Match Facts And Figures –
– Saracens have benefited from the most efficient Heineken Cup lineout this season, securing ball from 94% of their throws so far
– Ulster’s lineout success rate (74%) on the other hand is the lowest of all sides in the tournament
– Ulster’s Chris Henry is the top tackler in the Heineken Cup this season with the back rower completing 74 of 75 attempts so far
– Owen Farrell has overtaken Glen Jackson as Sarries’ top points scorer in this tournament, notching up 202 to surpass Jackson’s previous record of 193
– Saracens have recorded four wins and suffered seven losses against opponents from Ireland in the Heineken Cup
– Against English opposition in the tournament, Ulster have been victorious on 13 occasions but have lost 19. However, most recently they have won seven of their last 10 games against clubs from England
Heineken Cup Records:
2011/12: Reached the quarter-finals
2010/11: Failed to qualify from Pool 2
2007/08: Reached the semi-finals
2005/06: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2000/01: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
1999/00: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2010/11: Reached the quarter-finals
2009/10: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2008/09: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2007/08: Failed to qualify from Pool 2
2006/07: Failed to qualify from Pool 5
2005/06: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2004/05: Failed to qualify from Pool 6
2003/04: Failed to qualify from Pool 1
2002/03: Failed to qualify from Pool 6
2001/02: Failed to qualify from Pool 2
2000/01: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
1999/00: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
1997/98: Failed to qualify from Pool B
1996/97: Failed to qualify from Pool C
1995/96: Failed to qualify from Pool B