Stuart Barnes says that Ulster's win at Leicester has made them serious contenders for European glory
Stuart Barnes says Ulster's win at Leicester makes them serious Heineken Cup contenders.
Last Updated: 18/01/14 8:50pm
Both Ulster and Leicester had already qualified for the knockout stages, but this was a winner take all contest for that vital home advantage.
Twice Ulster had to come from behind at Welford Road - when Niall Morris went over for Leicester to make it 19-9, it looked like the Tigers had grabbed the initiative and were in pole position to win Pool 5.
However, a master-class from Ulster No.9 Ruan Pienaar swung the momentum and set-up a glorious win; a triumph that Stuart Barnes says puts them right up there in contention.
"The French teams are the glamour boys - they have the big names and are playing the flash stuff," said Barnes.
"However, the Heineken Cup is often won by the smart teams too and now that Ulster are at Ravenhill they are going to be very hard to beat in the quarter-final and they are serious contenders.
"They played very well in this pool - their win away at Montpellier was hugely impressive. That was the marker that they laid down even more so than when they beat Leicester at Ravenhill in round one.
"With a world class player like Pienaar, they have got all the foundations. Their ability defensively to keep on bringing Leicester back to where they wanted them was crucial. Every time Leicester stepped you wondered if it was a decent break, and it wasn't as they broke into three white shirts. When the numbers are there on you, you cannot get any decent ball. Ulster played Leicester brilliantly.
"Ulster have been the better team in this pool from day one. They were more convincing against Montpellier; their defence has been so strong throughout this tournament and was brilliant again. Tactically they got the edge over Leicester as well. With Pienaar kicking his goals they fully deserved their win at Welford Road. No one will be wanting to go to Ravenhill now. Ulster still have more to find going forward but they have the foundations of making themselves a very hard team to beat."
Ulster will host Saracens at Ravenhill and, while the English Premier champions were impressive in their 64-6 win against Connacht, Barnes says that Ulster are still the favourites.
"We saw Saracens looking very strong against Connacht this afternoon but Connacht are very much a second-tier team in Europe," added Barnes.
"The ghosts of what happened against Toulouse will still be a worry for Saracens and Ulster will study those tapes and they will fancy their chances of beating them at the breakdown. If they can win that collision then they can win the match. Saracens will be difficult opponents but there is no doubt that the rightful favourites at Ravenhill will be Johan Muller's men.
"As for Leicester well they lost 19-16 to Toulon last year and they now have to go and win a quarter-final away again - maybe at Toulon or Clermont Auvergne. It's odds against them but they are not out of it.
"It is odds on for Ulster who know become one of the favourites in this tournament. That was an impressive and a very important performance."