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As it happened: Northampton v Ulster, Heineken Cup

We brought the minute-by-minute coverage, Ulster brought the house down.

DECISIVE DECEMBER IS here and unbeaten Ulster are in Northampton for their most difficult test of the season so far.

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Northampton 6 – 25 Ulster

Evening folks, we’re mere minutes away from kick-off in this tantalising fixture in Franklin’s Gardens and we can’t bloody wait to get started.

Here are the teams.

Northampton: B Foden; K Pisi, G Pisi, D Waldouck, J Elliott; R Lamb, M Roberts: S Tonga’uiha, D Hartley (capt), B Mujati, S Manoa, C Lawes; C Clark, T Wood, GJ van Velze.

Replacements: M Haywood, A Waller, P Doran-Jones, M Sorenson, P Dowson, L Dickson, S Myler, T May.

Ulster: J Payne; T Bowe, D Cave, P Wallace, A Trimble; P Jackson, R Pienaar: T Court, R Best, J Afoa; J Muller (capt), D Tuohy; I Henderson, C Henry, R Wilson.

Replacements: N Brady, C Black, R Lutton, R Diack, N Williams, P Marshall, L Marshall, C Gilroy.

Whether you’re out and about or safe and warm. Spare a thought for the hardcore Ulstermen who have been pitched up in Franklin’s Gardens since six o’clock.

Yes SIX. 6. One after five and two hours before kick-off.


KICK OFF: The home side get us underway and kick long into the Ulster 22.

The Saints are awarded a free-kick and unsurprisingly go for another scrum.

Two phases later Chris Henry is penalised for not rolling away after tackling Ben Foden.

Ah, but Ryan Lamb doesn’t start well. His penalty, 10 metres in from the touchline, drifts right and wide.

The hosts get the ball back, but Lamb’s kick again has his side on the back foot as the formidable structure of Ruan Pienaar gets all up in his face and blocks the kick down.

TRY: Northampton 0 – 5 Ulster (Trimble ’9)

As Ulster attack the home line after a lovely territory kick from Jared Payne, Paddy Jackson chips through the onrushing defensive line with a deft touch and the winger, whose selection was much-derided, gets the touch down in the corner.

Jackson’s conversion attempt is decent, but drifts past the far post from the left touchline.

The hosts earn another penalty right of the posts on their next attack but again, Lamb is wayward.

A very good sign for the visitors.

We’re 17 minutes in, and we haven’t had a kick at goal scored yet.

Paddy Jackson with another penalty off the mark. Again, it was a difficult one, right on the edge of his range on a cold night.

Pienaar will be gearing up for the next one in that vicinity.

Stu Barnes says it was “obviously forward”, but to me it looked fairly flat. Trimble with a two-handed offload in midfield to Payne in acres of space and with Rory Best in support.

The hooker could have been clean down the touchline were it not for the referee’s intervention.

PENALTY: Northampton 3 – 5 Ulster (Lamb ’20)

The home 10 is off the mark as the Saints pack are awarded a penalty 45 metres out.

The award, despite Brian Mujati (3) taking this angle in the scrum.

PENALTY: Northampton 3 – 8 Ulster (Jackson ’23)

But Ulster hit back straight away, winning a break down penalty 35 metres out on the left side.

No problem for the young JCB singing fly-half.

OOMPH! Big hit from Paddy Wallace (yeah, you heard me) but Northampton were already playing with an offside advantage and we come back for another Lamb penalty… missed.

Oh dear, a grubber from George Pisi is mishandled by Jackson and he gets in all sorts of trouble, having to carry over his own line.

Scrum V to Northampton. this is a big one.

Incredible effort from Afoa. He wins a penalty for his side and they have the chance to clear, but the clearance (didn’t see if it was Jackson or Pienaar) missed touch and Foden comes roaring back.

This is turning into an exemplary display of away day rugby. Just after Bowe narrowly misses a chance to kick on for a clean run at the try-line, Payne drills ulster pack into the right area and the white pack rumbles from one side to the other before the backline invades the space and Darren Cave gives the pass to…

TRY: Northampton 3 – 13 Ulster (Bowe ’34)

Jackson clips the conversion across goal. Wide.

Remember that big hit from Wallace? Yeah, it looks like he’s just had some revenge exacted upon him. After a few seconds laid out on the halfway line after a Pisi hit, he gets up gingerly holding his ribs.

PENALTY: Northampton 6 – 13 Ulster (Lamb ‘ 40)

The referee had his arm out for a long, long time as the Saints flowed back and forth over an unbreachable white defensive wall.

Paddy Wallace is the irritator in chief here. Superb defensive effort.

HALF TIME: Northampton 6 – 13 Ulster

And we’re back up and running in the second half and ulster quickly regain possession, but the kick away drifts beyond the narrow in-goal area and the Saints have a scrum just inside their half.

Jared Payne is having a stormer!

TRY: Northampton 6 – 20 Ulster (Payne ‘ 44)

The fullback, almost at will, is picking lines to shred the green defence. His pass in his own half allowed Darren Cave dart through a gap and after Trimble provided the support run and pass, the fluid fullback was cruising over the line.

Ulster really are turning the screw now.  They win another penalty, this one off a scrum, and Jackson attempts the kick from inside his own half.

Pienaar must have some niggly injury preventing him kicking.

Amazingly, Ulster are now looking for a bonus point.

Johann Muller has quite a serious looking shoulder problem. He couldn’t lift the right arm as Elliot carried into him. He’s replaced by Big Nick WIlliams. So Henderson will pop into his favoured role as a second row.

Only danger now, and we have seen this from Ulster before, is that Ulster will take the foot off the pedal a little.

Ken Pisi made a clean break through Jackson on the right wing before being stripped by Pienaar.

“The full package” is how the Sky commentary team just described Ulster, but there is a sense that they have moved into containment mode.

Anscombe tends to leave a bonus-point chase for the final 10-5 minutes. Until then, four points are the only important thing.

Ulster conceding all the possession now and inviting the hosts onto them, but the series of phases ends with a knock-on as Waldouck tries to force the off-load.

This really is an excellent defensive display, but one error could put the hosts back inside losing bonus point territory, and thus within a score of Ulster.

Delicately poised.

That Waldouck error came just after Myler, on in place of Lamb, gave two deft inside passes to forward ball-carriers.

The Sky tackle count as Ulster over 100 versus the hosts’ 45. Chris Henry must be a clear leader in that regard, he’s been everywhere.

Heart in mouth time as the Saints rumble to, and over, the Ulster line. But the ref elects not to ask the TMO. He’s happy it’s held up. Scrum v to Saints.

An almighty scrum from both sides there. Neither side could budge an inch and neither willing to try anything dirty. Saints get the wall away, but the crash ball is from Tom May, just on the field in place of Waldouck, and he shows the touch of a brick wall allowing Pienaar to clear.

Here comes the man of the moment: Craig Gilroy, Luke Marshall and Callum Black are on in place of Trimble, Court and Wallace.

YELLOW CARD: Well, Ulster finally pay a price for not having the ball. Iain Henderson’s game is over as he is sin-binned with nine minutes to go for holding on in the tackle five metres from the line.

With every full-blooded Ulster tackle, another chunk of  impetus is dragged away from the home team. Incredible stuff from the pack, but in particular Henry.

Ulster win a penalty on halfway and Pienaar gets himself involved in a scuffle, but on we go…

And Paddy Jackson kicks for the corner. Four minutes to win  a bonus point with 14 men.

Aggghh! The line-out is lost. Looks like we’ll have to settle for a regular old win. But hang on, turnover 30 metres  and the white back line are in full flow after a Luke Marshall break.

Pienaar switches the play for Payne and you just knew he’d create all the space in the world for Dan Tuohy to cross in the corner.

TRY: Northampton 6  - 25 Ulster (Tuohy ’80)

FULL TIME: Northampton 6 – 25 Ulster

The visitors applaud off their hosts, but they can scarcely hold their heads up to accept it. They’ve taken a battering in every sense tonight and all they have to look forward to is a return trip to Ravenhill.

Wow! With Connacht beating Biarritz in Galway it’s been another unbelievable night for Irish provincial rugby.

Neither result was an enormous shock, but the manner in which Ulster clinically, methodically and professionally dealt with the challenge presented by the English side was something to behold.

It is a win that seals their 13th win of the season, their 13th win EVER away from home in the Heineken Cup and, most importantly, puts them in the driving seat in this pool with a real chance of earning a home quarter-final.

For many outside the nine counties, Ulster were a side-show last season: an anomaly revelling on the back of Ruan Pienaar’s brilliance. This performance will make most right-minded observers take them seriously.

Over to you, Munster and Leinster.


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