After the recent injury woes which had taken a considerable toll on Ulster's form and results in domestic rugby, Head Coach Anscombe was able to name a strong squad for this evening's make-or-break encounter, with Luke Marshall a notable returnee at inside centre, and Tommy Bowe named on the bench for the first time since December last. Elsewhere, John Afoa, back in time from the birth of his daughter Violet in New Zealand, slotted in at tight-head, and Henderson was preferred to Robbie Diack in the back row.
Saracens started on the front foot with a good break down the right wing from Chris Ashton, before Farrell stabbed over a third-minute penalty from in front of the posts to establish an early lead. Ulster soon settled into their rhythm however, Nick Williams in particular gaining good ground with two strong carries before being crowded out by assiduous Sarries defending.
A dinked kick into the corner from Paddy Jackson on 18 minutes put the hosts under pressure metres from their own line, but the English outfit worked the long line-out well and cleared the danger with little fuss. An infringement from Brad Barritt in the next play, however, gave Pienaar the chance to draw his side level from 45 metres, but the scrum-half, usually most reliable from distance, clipped his kick just wide.
The Springbok came close to atoning for his miss moments later with a second penalty from 50 metres on the left wing, but, frustratingly, the ball struck the post and rebounded back into play, where it was immediately knocked on by Steve Borthwick. Ulster worked the resulting scrum well and, with Will Fraser pulled up for infringing in front of the posts, Pienaar slotted home the simple kick.
Parity lasted for less than a minute in the first instance, Farrell nudging his side back in front just before the half-hour mark, but was restored on 31 minutes, once more from the boot of Pienaar. This seemed to spur Saracens into action, and, from a lineout which in truth should have been awarded Ulster's way, strong mauling carried Fraser over the line for the try, awarded by Romain Poite after consultation with the video referee. Farrell converted to set the score at Saracens 13 Ulster 6 on 33 minutes.
The first-choice England out-half added another three from 35 metres three minutes later, and with the match threatening to slip out of Ulster's reach, the half-time whistle came as a welcome reprieve.
Half-Time Score Saracens 16 Ulster 6
After a disjointed start to the second period from both sides, Craig Gilroy burst through the midfield on 46 minutes, only to be stopped in his tracks by M Poite for an unfair Ulster obstruction which had cleared the path for the flying winger. Farrell soon raised the Saracens lead to 13 points courtesy of another elementary penalty, but Ulster reacted well - notably with a superb carry from Henderson on 55 minutes, which took out four or five opponents before earning Pienaar a simple penalty in front of the posts.
With the deficit now back to 10 points on the cusp of the final quarter, Bowe then took the field in place of Darren Cave, but it was that man Farrell who made the next impact on the scoresheet, easing the pressure on his side with a sublime fifth penalty from just inside the Ulster half to make it Saracens 22 Ulster 9.
It was game over on 62 minutes as a key interception by replacement Rhys Gill set Ashton loose on the Ulster '22', and the winger showed good pace to outstrip three defenders in his diagonal line to the right-hand corner. Farrell missed his first kick of the match with the conversion, but there was clear daylight between the sides at Saracens 27 Ulster 9.
To their credit, Ulster continued to chase the game despite the extent of the deficit, and fully deserved Henderson's last-minute try, crafted thanks to great feet and persistence from replacement centre Stuart Olding in the middle of the park, and laudable resistance from the young forward as he shrugged off three meaty challenges to ground by the right-hand corner flag.
Pienaar converted well from the acutest of angles, but there was insufficient time even for a restart, as Saracens marched on for a semi-final clash with the victor of tomorrow's tie between Toulon and Leicester.
Full-Time Score Saracens 27 Ulster 16
(15 - 9) A Goode; C Ashton, J Tomkins, B Barritt, D Strettle; O Farrell, R Wigglesworth
(1 - 8) M Vunipola, S Brits, M Stevens, S Borthwick (c), A Hargreaves, K Brown, W Fraser, E Joubert
Replacements (16 - 23) J Smit, R Gill, P Du Plessis, M Botha, J Wray, N de Kock, C Hodgson, C Wyles
(15 - 9) J Payne; A Trimble, D Cave, L Marshall, C Gilroy; P Jackson, R Pienaar
(1 - 8) T Court, R Best, J Afoa, J Muller (c), D Tuohy, I Henderson, C Henry, N Williams
Replacements (16 - 23) R Herring, C Black, R Lutton, R Diack, M McComish, P Marshall, S Olding, T Bowe
|Saracens Score Card|
|Ulster Rugby Score Card|