Clinical Ulster put Saints to the sword
Northampton 6 Ulster 25:ULSTER announced their candidacy as serious European contenders with a stunning display which simply destroyed the Saints in their own backyard to grab a bonus point win.
Under Mark Anscombe, Ulster have shown a hunger and desire to win, even unconvincingly at times, that had stretched their run to 12 games prior to last night and now have also put themselves in a great position to escape Pool Four as group winners.
There were so many positives from last night’s staggering effort that it was hard to know where to begin but the sight of the Saints much feared scrum being shunted sideways and backwards by the excellent Tom Court, Rory Best and John Afoa was one of many memorable sights.
All over the park, Ulster dominated every facet of play and led 13-6 at half-time after intelligently well-worked tries from Andrew Trimble – who had a great game – and Tommy Bowe. They then put themselves in a virtually unassailable position with a marvellous score from man of the match Jared Payne and a bonus point arrived right at the death with Iain Henderson in the bin.
Ulster were in the Saints’ faces pretty much from the off with the second scrum which saw them significantly hold and then drive the Saints back.
Still it was Northampton who had the first scoring chance after three minutes but Ryan Lamb was wide with his penalty attempt.
Ulster also had a kickable chance several minutes later but Ruan Pienaar took a quick tap and again Ulster showed, rather rashly perhaps, that they were focused on running when given the chance. It paid off after nine minutes when a lineout take by Muller led to a great maul and when Ulster went wide Paddy Jackson chipped for Andrew Trimble to make the touchdown.
Lamb made no mistake with a penalty on 19 minutes but Ulster’s restart was right on the money and a lineout led to a penalty which Jackson this time nailed to make it 8-3.
Lamb then missed his third penalty but when Jackson failed to deal with a George Pisi kick through, the Saints had a great chance from the resulting five metre scrum only for Ulster to turn and mill the Saints set-piece.
Payne then put in a wonderful kick into the left corner, and Wilson snaffled Saints’ lineout and in a flash Ulster had moved the ball left and then right where Bowe was put in by Paddy Wallace. Jackson again failed to convert but Ulster now led 13-3 and were looking comfortable only for Lamb to knock over a penalty right on half-time.
Saints needed to get thing going quickly but a Lamb Garryowen was wonderfully taken by Payne who countered and in the blink of an eye Ulster were off with Payne in again to dummy Foden and make the line just four minutes after the restart.
Jackson converted and at 20-6, the Saints looked totally shell-shocked. From there, they simply imploded with Ulster’s immense defending and dominant scrum suffocating the life out of them.
With Henderson binned in the 71st minute, Saints still looked like a rabble and Ulster got their bonus with Dan Tuohy being put over for the bonus try in the right corner by (who else?) Payne.
On this form, Ulster are going to take some stopping.
NORTHAMPTON SAINTS: Foden; K Pisi, G Pisi, Waldouck, Elliott; Lamb, Roberts; Tonga’uiha, Hartley, Mujati; Manoa, Lawes; Clark, Wood, van Velze. Replacements: May for Waldouck (66), Myler for Lamb (60), Dickson for Roberts (51), A Waller for Tonga’uiha (63), Haywood for Hartley (71), Doran-Jones for Mujati (60), Dowson for Clark (57). Not used: Sorenson.
ULSTER: Payne; Bowe, Cave, Wallace, Trimble; Jackson, Pienaar; Court, Best, Afoa; Muller, Tuohy; Henderson, Henry, Wilson. Replacements: L Marshall for Wallace (69), Gilroy for Trimble (69), Black for Court (69), Williams for Muller (50), Diack for Wilson (79). Not used: Brady, Lutton, P Marshall. Sin bin: Henderson (71). Attendance: 13,475 Referee: Jerome Garces (France).