Ulster 9 Northampton Saints 10
Frustrated Ulster coach Mark Anscombe admitted Northampton deserved to take the Heineken Cup spoils at a capacity Ravenhill on Saturday night, saying that errors and the usual accuracy deserted his side.
Losing their 14-match winning streak certainly wasn’t the result expected as Pool 4 opened up on a night the home side failed to score a try for the first time this season.
The loser’s bonus point still leaves Ulster in a strong position with a three-point lead over Castres, who narrowly saw off Glasgow 10-8 in France yesterday, with Northampton a further two points behind in third.
Anscombe, however, was not for giving his squad the hair-dryer treatment despite an abject performance, but is hoping that they will learn from the experience.
“Our execution was very poor and we certainly suffered from it. They got 10 points up in the first 18 minutes and we held them up well and got a bit lucky later on,” said Anscombe, who was on strange territory in tasting defeat for the first time since he arrived from New Zealand in June. “But I think we created enough opportunities to score points. We were not patient enough. We didn’t have the composure at crucial times; we tried to force things.
“But they started out with intent, they had more passion than us and their physicality got them going early on. They put in a lot more effort at the breakdown and while we were not complacent, we were passive early on.”
The Saints had a firm grip on the game at the outset with the recalled Stephen Myler pulling the strings. The fly-half knocked over a penalty and then converted a well-worked try in the right-hand corner by No 8 Gerrit-Jan van Velze.
“We built into the game and had enough opportunities, but failed to take our points,” said Anscombe. “Yes, it was sad afterwards in the changing room, because it was the first loss of the season, but we got beaten on the night by a better team.”
Fly-half Jackson had kept Ulster in contention with two first-half penalties and kicked another immediately on the restart as the home side stutteringly began to slowly go through the gears. It was cut and thrust with Ulster missing two glorious try-scoring opportunities, one of which led to an injury to Tommy Bowe.
But Ulster’s big guns, shot blanks on the night. The usually sublime Ruan Pienaar had a very rare off-day with his kicking and passing while Jared Payne spilled a ball when a try was in the offering.
Northampton coach Jim Mallinder was obviously delighted with the turnaround in fortune after the 25-6 drubbing last week.
“It was the determination from the squad after last week’s defeat,” said Mallinder. “We were bitterly disappointed and we were roundly criticised for our performance. But as a team and a group we were very determined to put that right.
“Our front five were outstanding. The set-piece went really, really well and at the breakdown, where Ulster strangled us last week, we were always on the front foot with the forwards working really hard around the fringes.
“We were able to put a little width to our game and could have possible scored a few more tries.
“We were expecting Ulster to come back at us as they are a quality side. But over the 80 minutes I would like to think that we deserved the victory.”
Scorer for Ulster: Pens: Jackson 3
Scorers for Northampton: Try: van Velze. Con: Myler. Pen: Myler.
ULSTER: J Payne; T Bowe, D Cave, P Wallace, A Trimble; P Jackson, R Pienaar; T Court, R Best, J Afoa, I Henderson, D Tuohy, N Williams, C Henry (capt), R Wilson.
Replacements: McComb for Bowe (77), L Marshall for Wallace (69), Gilroy for Trimble (56), P Marshall for Jackson (62), Black for Court (69), Lutton for Tuohy (79), Diack for Williams (72)
NORTHAMPTON SAINTS: B Foden; K Pesi, G Pisi, T May, J Elliott; S Myler, L Dickson; S Tonga’uiha, M Haywood, P Doran-Jones, S Manoa, C Clark, T Wood, P Dowson (capt), GJ van Velze.
Replacements: Lawes for van Velze (25), Waller for Tonga’uiha (64), McMillan for Haywood (78), Mujati for Doran-Jones (54), Sorenson for Clark (64).
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales).
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