Ulster’s All-Black star Afoa braced for Northampton backlash

John Afoa is adamant the three components of Ulster’s recent good form must be repeated if the northerners are to achieve the double over Premiership giants Northampton at Ravenhill this evening.

The key to last week’s stunning victory at Franklin’s Gardens were the ferocity in defence, a solid technical set-piece and perhaps most impressively was the conversion of chances into scores.

Ulster are now within touching distance of the knock-out stages in leading Pool 4 by six points from Castres.

New Zealander World Cup winner Afoa is certainly a key when it comes to the tight where he hopes Ulster can take a step further and reach the same heights as last week.

Ulster coach Mark Anscombe has made only the one change with Ireland’s young flanker Iain Henderson stepping into the void left by the injured skipper Johann Muller in the second row, with Nick Williams drafted into the blindside role.

Chris Henry will lead the side, and he will be looking for more good work from those in front of him. Seeing the whole of the Northampton famed front-row being replaced during the game was a bit special for Afoa, who more than anybody has made Ulster into a real fighting force in the set-pieces. The tight-head may have seemed laid back, but he knew he was in a battle last week. “Lucky them. I was waiting for the card to come up as well as I was knackered in the last 10 minutes,” laughed Afoa. “It was a very tough challenge. Now we have to do it all over again tonight. To be honest, I don’t think we were that great in the tight. It was a bit tit-for-tat at times, but you can be assured that with their pride slightly dented they will want to turn things around.”

Northampton, meanwhile have changed half of their team with four changes up front. Mikey Harwood deputises at hooker for the banned Dylan Hartley and England tight-head Paul Doran-Jones takes over from Brian Mujati. Lock Courtney Lawes has been dropped to the bench with Calum Clarke moving forward to lock and Phil Dowson deputising and leading the side. They have also changed their half-backs with Lee Dickson and Stephen Myler coming in while Tom May replaces Dom Waldouck in midfield.

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 (c), R Wilson.

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

NORTHAMPTON SAINTS: B Foden; K Pisi, 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 (c), G-Jan van Velze.

Replacements: R McMillan, A Waller, B Mujati, M Sorenson, C Lawes, M Roberts, R Lamb, L Burrell.

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