Heineken Cup: Saracens scrape past 14-man Ulster at Ravenhill
A Chris Ashton brace helped Saracens edge past 14-man Ulster 17-15 to reach the semi-finals of the Heineken Cup.
By Joe Drabble - @SkySportsDrabs
Last Updated: 05/04/14 10:59pm
Ashton's eighth and ninth tries of the campaign saw Sarries eliminate Ulster from the competition in the last eight stage for a second successive year, as the Irish province were left to rue Jared Payne's costly dismissal in just the fourth minute of the match.
Payne was found guilty of taking Alex Goode out in the air - an incident which saw the England full-back depart on a stretcher - and left Ulster with a mountain to climb.
Saracens will now face Clermont Auvergne in the semi-finals at Twickenham.
It was to the home side's credit that it was hard to tell which side held the numerical advantage thereafter and despite over 30 phases of pressure in the dying stages, Ulster were unable to snatch a remarkable win.
The game looked over when Ashton collected Owen Farrell's crosskick to touch down for his second try in the 68th minute and put Sarries 17-9 in front.
But Ulster refused to lie down. Paddy Jackson slotted over two penalties to give the raucous home support renewed hope of a famous win, however Saracens held on to book a Twickenham semi-final with Clermont Auvergne.
The decisive moment came early in the contest when Payne collided with opposite number Goode in midair and referee Jerome Garces sent the Ulster full-back off on the advice of TMO Eric Gauzins.
Despite the nightmare start, Ulster opened the scoring through a Ruan Pienaar penalty on 15 minutes and the returning No 9 missed another shot at goal four minutes later.
Saracens struggled to settle but a slick piece of attacking play on 23 minutes saw Ashton latch on to a deft reverse pass from Charlie Hodgson, who replaced Duncan Taylor earlier in the game, and finish with a swallow dive in the corner.
Farrell uncharacteristically missed four kicks on the night and that allowed Pienaar, who missed two himself, to boot Ulster 9-5 up at the break.
Saracens showed plenty of intent after the interval and Mauritz Botha restored their lead with a try on 49 minutes after an initial break from Schalk Brits had opened up the 14 men of Ulster.
To compound Ulster's misery Pienaar left the field with an injury, although Farrell was off target with his conversion to keep the score at 10-9 in the visitors' favour.
Saracens were wasteful in attack all evening and despite Ashton being held up on the line, he was not to be denied just moments later as Farrell made amends for a poor night in front of the posts with a superb kick across field, which allowed Ashton to touch down for a record-equalling ninth try of the campaign.
Farrell nailed his hardest kick of the night from out wide and despite two Jackson penalties and a late onslaught, Sarried held on.