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Ulster are two wins from two in Europe so far.
Ulster are two wins from two in Europe so far.
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Up-and-down Ulster strive to get momentum rolling again in Northampton

Nathan Doak and Stewart Moore make their first European starts in a youthful backline.
Jan 16th 2022, 6:00 AM 4,002 5

IT HAS BEEN tough to predict Ulster’s performance levels at times this season but we will learn plenty about Dan McFarland’s side at Franklin’s Garden in today’s Champions Cup clash with Northampton [KO 3.15pm, BT Sport]?

They started this campaign with four consecutive wins in the United Rugby Championship before a dip against a strong Connacht side in defeat back in October. They followed that up with an impressive win over Leinster, lost to Ospreys in frustrating style, then peaked for an away win over Clermont in Europe.

They battled past Northampton in Belfast six days later before being forced into a three-week break by Covid, returning last weekend and losing in disappointing fashion at Thomond Park despite a 15th-minute red card for Munster’s Simon Zebo.

It has an up-and-down season, although the recent Covid outbreak certainly took the sting out of their momentum following the two European wins over Clermont and Saints. After last weekend’s frustration at letting their lead in Limerick slip, Ulster will likely need to hit a high today for the rematch with Northampton.

Dan Biggar is in the Saints’ number 10 shirt, having missed their visit to Belfast, allowing George Furbank to line out at fullback, from where he is so dangerous. Courtney Lawes will lead the effort up front from the Premiership side’s back row.

The Saints enjoyed a resounding 44-8 win away to Newcastle last weekend, their first victory in five games, so should have a pep in their step as they look to ignite their effort to salvage a Champions Cup knock-out spot.

Having also lost at home to Racing 92 in the first round, Chris Boyd’s side have just one match point coming into today, whereas Ulster have nine of them and are firmly in the mix for knock-outs and even a spot as one of the highest-ranked clubs at the end of the pool stage.

robert-baloucoune Baloucoune is back from injury for Ulster. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Dan McFarland has happily welcomed wing Robert Baloucoune back from the shoulder injury he sustained over in Clermont last month, although the influential Stuart McCloskey, Iain Henderson, and John Cooney are among those still on Ulster’s extensive injury list.

Those absences mean that inside centre Stewart Moore and 20-year-old scrum-half Nathan Doak get their first Champions Cup starts in a youthful backline, while captain Alan O’Connor teams up with Kieran Treadwell in the second row.

McFarland will look for Springbok number eight Duane Vermeulen to steer the ship up front, while prop pair Andrew Warwick and Marty Moore will be key figures as Ulster aim for gains in the set-piece battle.

On paper, it’s an evenly-balanced contest and this crucial European tie should tell us a lot about this Ulster team as they look to get their momentum rolling again.

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Northampton:

  • 15. George Furbank 
  • 14. Courtnall Skosan
  • 13. Tom Litchfield
  • 12. Rory Hutchinson
  • 11. Tom Collins
  • 10. Dan Biggar
  • 9. Alex Mitchell
  • 1. Alex Waller
  • 2. Sam Matavesi
  • 3. Paul Hill
  • 4. David Ribbans
  • 5. Brandon Nansen
  • 6. Courtney Lawes
  • 7. Lewis Ludlam (captain)
  • 8. Teimana Harrison
Replacements:
  • 16. James Fish
  • 17. Emmanuel Iyogun
  • 18. Ehren Painter
  • 19. Api Ratuniyarawa
  • 20. Alex Coles
  • 21. Juarno Augustus
  • 22. Tom James
  • 23. Tommy Freeman 

Ulster:

  • 15. Mike Lowry
  • 14. Robert Baloucoune
  • 13. James Hume
  • 12. Stewart Moore
  • 11. Ethan McIlroy
  • 10. Billy Burns
  • 9. Nathan Doak
  • 1. Andrew Warwick
  • 2. Rob Herring
  • 3. Marty Moore
  • 4. Alan O’Connor (captain)
  • 5. Kieran Treadwell
  • 6. Marcus Rea
  • 7. Nick Timoney
  • 8. Duane Vermeulen

Replacements:

  • 16. John Andrew
  • 17. Eric O’Sullivan
  • 18. Tom O’Toole
  • 19. Sam Carter
  • 20. Greg Jones
  • 21. David Shanahan
  • 22. Ian Madigan
  • 23. Ben Moxham

Referee: Pierre Brousset [FFR].

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Murray Kinsella

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