England wing Chris Ashton returned to try-scoring form at Twickenham as Saracens beat Ulster to book their first Heineken Cup semi-final appearance for five years.
Ashton, who suffered a major form lapse during this season’s Six Nations, touched down 17 minutes from time to confirm a Twickenham last-four appointment with Toulon or Leicester on 28 April. England stand-off Owen Farrell kicked 17 points from five penalties and a conversion of flanker Will Fraser’s first-half try as a crowd of just under 38,000 saw Saracens never seriously troubled.
Ulster scrum-half Ruan Pienaar booted three penalties for Ulster and converted flanker Iain Henderson’s late try, yet they never threatened a repeat of last season’s Heineken Cup heroics that saw them reach the final.
Aiming for a domestic and European double this season, Saracens fielded their clutch of current England stars under Steve Borthwick’s captaincy while Scotland skipper Kelly Brown was also among those looking to impress British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland.
Farrell booted Saracens ahead through a second-minute penalty before Pienaar made amends for two early misses and pulled Ulster level. Three minutes later, though, a concerted spell of Saracens pressure resulted in Fraser powering over, although it required several reviews by the TMO. Farrell converted and then kicked a penalty as half-time approached with Saracens ten points clear. Two more from his boot after the break gave Ulster further cause for concern and victory was sealed when prop Rhys Gill secured possession in midfield and Ashton ran around two defenders to claim a try that he celebrated with a trademark dive.
Henderson had the final say, posting a try that Pienaar converted, but it was Saracens’ day.
n A nasty spitting incident spoiled a match in which Stade Francais ended English involvement in the Amlin Challenge Cup with an impressive 36-20 victory at Bath. Waisea Vuidravuwalu scored two of Stade’s four tries and helped lay on the other two but the win was soured after scrum-half Jerome Fillol spat at opposite number Peter Stringer. Fillol is almost certain to be cited, given the damning nature of the footage, and faces a lengthy ban.