ULSTER extended the only unbeaten record in Europe with a comprehensive bonus point victory at Franklin’s Garden that all but extinguished Northampton’s Heineken Cup ambitions.
Scorers: Northampton: Pens: Lamb 2. Ulster: Tries: Trimble, Bowe, Payne, Tuohy. Cons: Jackson. Pens: Jackson.
Tries from the outstanding Andrew Trimble and fellow wing Tommy Bowe had put Ulster, runners-up in this competition last year, in command at the interval.
Ulster pushed on to seal their 13th consecutive victory of the campaign with a slick try from full-back Jared Payne and Dan Tuohy’s last-minute try, which sealed the bonus point. The Saints have now suffered back-to-back Heineken Cup defeats.
Jim Mallinder’s men will somehow have to recover from this heavy beating and win at Ravenhill in the return fixture next weekend to stand any chance of reaching the knock-out stages. Northampton captain, Dylan Hartley, could find himself in hot water with the citing officer after he appeared to strike Ulster hooker Rory Best with a forearm or elbow to the face in an off-the-ball scrap.
The Saints’ pressing need for a home win, following defeat at Castres in the last round, saw Tom Wood and Courtney Lawes return to action just six days after they helped England beat New Zealand. Ben Foden and Hartley were also back in action after missing England’s autumn campaign through injury – but they and the Saints ran into an Ulster side in unstoppable form.
Ulster now top Pool 4 by six points from Castres with three wins from three. Northampton’s Euro hopes may now rest on the Amlin Challenge Cup.
Northampton: 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).
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).
Referee: J Garces (France).