Northampton 6 Ulster 25
Ulster extended the only unbeaten record in Europe with a comprehensive bonus-point victory at Franklin’s Garden that all but extinguished Northampton’s Heineken Cup ambitions.
Tries from the outstanding Andrew Trimble and fellow wing Tommy Bowe put Ulster, runners-up last year, in command at the interval.
Ulster pushed on to seal a 13th consecutive victory of the campaign with a slick try from full-back Jared Payne and Dan Tuohy’s last-minute try sealed a bonus point.
Jim Mallinder’s men must win at Ravenhill in the return fixture next weekend to stand any chance of reaching the knockout stages.
Northampton captain Dylan Hartley, could be in trouble with the citing officer after he appeared to strike Ulster hooker Rory Best in an off-the-ball scrap.
Saints fly-half Ryan Lamb struggled with the boot all night and he missed an early penalty shot at goal before Ulster took control of the game with an excellent try.
Paddy Jackson’s clever chip over the top put Foden in trouble and, when he made little ground with the clearance, Ulster drove the lineout within five metres of the Northampton line. Ruan Pienaar swung the ball wide to Jackson, who aimed a perfectly-weighted chip towards the corner and Trimble beat Foden to the touchdown.
Lamb and Jackson both missed penalty shots before the Northampton fly-half finally found his range after a good Saints scrum.
Jackson hit back to reestablish Ulster’s five-point lead after Roger Wilson, the former Saints number eight, had claimed an acrobatic lineout and Northampton were penalised at the maul.
Northampton had Ulster under pressure but were penalised at a five-metre scrum and Ulster turned defence into attack with a brilliant kick to into the corner from Payne. Hartley overthrew the lineout and Ulster punished them. Iain Henderson made two big carries before Pienaar spread play wide right for Bowe to score Ulster’s second try.
A penalty from Lamb on the stroke of half-time kept the Saints in touch.
Not for long though. Darren Cave tore past Callum Clarke and then Trimble through an arrow-like flat pass to Payne, breezed past Foden to score.
Northampton wing Jamie Elliot was held up over the line by Cave just before Hartley and Best scrapped on the floor, with the England man appearing to twice catch his opposite number in the face.
Lee Dickson added some zip for Northampton off the bench but Tom May failed to hold his pass under the posts.
Henderson was sin-binned as Ulster kept Saints at bay. The visitors applied the ultimate sucker-punch, scoring with turnover ball as Payne sent Tuohy in at the corner.
Northampton scorers: Pens: Lamb 2.
Ulster: Tries: Trimble, Bowe, Payne, Tuohy. Cons: Jackson. Pens: Jackson.
NORTHAMPTON: Foden, K. Pisi, G. Pisi, Waldouck, Elliott, Lamb, Roberts, Tonga’uiha, Hartley, Mujati, Manoa, Lawes, Clark, Wood, van Velze. Replacements: May for Waldouck (66), Myler for Lamb (60), Dickson for Roberts (51), A. Waller for Tonga’uiha (63), Haywood for Hartley (71), Doran-Jones for Mujati (60), Dowson for Clark (57).
ULSTER: Payne, Bowe, Cave, Wallace, Trimble, Jackson, Pienaar, Court, Best, Afoa, Muller, Tuohy, Henderson, Henry, Wilson. Replacements: L. Marshall for Wallace (69), Gilroy for Trimble (69), Black for Court (69), Williams for Muller (50), Diack for Wilson (79).
Referee: Jerome Garces (France).
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