# suftum
Lowry and Baloucoune shine as Ulster advance into Champions Cup knock-outs
Dan McFarland’s men played some superb attacking rugby as they beat Northampton 24-20.

Northampton 20

Ulster 24

ULSTER HAVE THEIR Heineken Champions Cup destiny all in their own hands as they rubber-stamped their place in the last-16 of the competition with a 24-20 bonus-point win over Northampton Saints at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens.

robert-baloucoune-scores-his-sides-first-try-despite-tom-collins-and-george-furbank Dan Sheridan / INPHO Robert Baloucoune scored Ulster's first try. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

The returning Robert Baloucoune and fullback Mike Lowry ran the show, the former opening the scoring early and the latter crossing for a double in a man-of-the-match display on their way to a win that takes Ulster alongside Racing 92 at the top of Pool A with one round to go.

Dan McFarland’s side – whose other try came from scrum-half Nathan Doak on his first European start – now know that home advantage in the knock-outs awaits them if they win at home to Clermont Auvergne next Saturday, and they will earn top seeds should they better Racing’s match points total against the Saints.

It was a little closer than they would have liked it to be, especially when the excellent Rory Hutchinson crossed inside the final minute to give the Saints a hail Mary chance at stealing the unlikeliest of wins at the death, but the province held on to make it three wins from three in Europe.

But for now, they will simply revel in another impressive away win to add to this season’s copy book, jotting down Franklin’s Gardens alongside the RDS Arena and the Stade Marcel-Michelin as imposing venues they have conquered in the last two-and-a-half months alone.

The win is even more impressive that they did it down key personnel, such as Iain Henderson, John Cooney, and Stuart McCloskey, as well as coming off the back of last week’s loss to 14-man Munster and on the occasion of Courtney Lawes’ 250th appearance for the hosts.

But in their absence, Kieran Treadwell, Doak, and Stewart Moore had big performances and led by the fantastic back three, with winger Ethan McIlroy also having a strong game, Ulster will have knock-out rugby to look forward to in April, another sign of their progression as a team this season.

nathan-doak-runs-in-to-score-his-sides-second-try Dan Sheridan / INPHO Nathan Doak dotted down in the first half. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

It was Baloucoune who opened the scoring just six minutes in, Stewart Moore making the incisive inside break to take Ulster deep into the Saints red zone and when Doak rode a tackle and attempted to offload to Moore on his shoulder, the winger was there to scoop up the loose ball and crash over in the corner.

Having scored the first, Baloucoune would provide the assist for the second after some excellent work by Lowry, who gathered a loose chip kick through from Hutchinson and set the winger away from inside his own half after he shrugged a tackle from Lawes, and he turned George Furbank inside out before sending Doak under the posts.

Dan Biggar finally got the Saints on the board shortly before the midway point of the first half when a thunderous break from Brandon Nansen led to Ulster straying offside, allowing him to chip over a penalty, before the fly-half went over for their first try of the contest.

He started the move, throwing a long pass to Hutchinson for the centre to charge forward just shy of the Ulster 22 where he fed Tom Collins on his outside and, despite the best efforts of Baloucoune to force his opposite man into touch, the winger managed to get his arms free to offload inside for Biggar to saunter over.

But just when it looked like it would be a one-score game at the break, Ulster got a stroke of luck right on the stroke of half-time, Billy Burns’ chip kick over the top bouncing forward off Stewart Moore and, after ricocheting off a couple of Saints, into the hands of Lowry who forced his way over the line.

The TMO was required to determine whether Moore had touched it with his hand but, after a lengthy deliberation, the try stood, much to the frustration of Biggar, who made his frustrations known to referee Pierre Brousset as they headed off at the interval.

mike-lowry-celebrates-scoring-his-sides-fourth-try-with-teammates Dan Sheridan / INPHO Ulster celebrate a score for player of the match Mike Lowry. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

It was the Saints fly-half who had the last say of the first half – literally – and also the first of the second-half, firing over an early penalty, but that was as good as it would get for the hosts as Ulster took over for the majority of the rest of the game.

They had two chances to wrap up the bonus point inside the third quarter, a driving maul halted just shy by a fantastic Saints rearguard and then Alex Mitchell seeing yellow for the second time this season against Ulster when he cynically slowed the ball down on the line as Lowry looked to go over following a searing run down the wing.

But with the extra man, the try would indeed come and it was fitting that it was the back three who combined brilliantly to score it, Baloucoune shrugging off a tackle and setting McIlroy into space, and Lowry picked the perfect support line down the blindside to take it the rest of the way for the bonus-point score.

Hutchinson made it very interesting when Tom James’ bullet pass sent him through a tackle relatively easily and under the posts with 90 seconds to go, Furbank adding a quick conversion, but there would be no late sting from the hosts and Ulster are the ones marching on instead.

Northampton scorers:

Tries: Biggar, Hutchinson
Cons: Biggar, Furbank
Pens: Biggar (2)

Ulster scorers:

Tries: Baloucoune, Doak, Lowry (2)
Cons: Doak (2)

NORTHAMPTON SAINTS: George Furbank; Courtnall Skosan, Tom Litchfield, Rory Hutchinson, Tom Collins; Dan Biggar (Tommy Freeman 68), Alex Mitchell (Tom James 77); (1-8) Alex Waller (Emmanuel Iyogun 61), Sam Matavesi (James Fish 71), Ehren Painter (Karl Garside 71); David Ribbans, Brandon Nansen (Api Ratuniyarawa 40); Courtney Lawes (Alex Coles 65), Lewis Ludlam, Teimana Harrison (Juarno Augustus 57).
Yellow card: Alex Mitchell (55′)

ULSTER: Mike Lowry; Robert Baloucoune, James Hume, Stewart Moore, Ethan McIlroy; Billy Burns (Ian Madigan 56), Nathan Doak (David Shanahan 59); (1-8) Andrew Warwick (Eric O’Sullivan 15), Rob Herring, Marty Moore (Tom O’Toole 59); Alan O’Connor (Sam Carter 59), Kieran Treadwell; Marcus Rea (Greg Jones 68), Nick Timoney, Duane Vermeulen.
Subs not used: John Andrew, Ben Moxham.

Man of the Match: Mike Lowry (Ulster)
Referee: Pierre Brousset (France).

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