Ulster seal second straight Champions Cup win despite Northampton Saints resolve
Ulster made it two wins out of two in the Heineken Champions Cup with a 27-22 success - but had to survive a nervy last quarter as Northampton Saints refused to buckle.
Ulster had their bonus point wrapped up on 58 minutes but two late tries kept the Saints in touch.
However, Dan McFarland’s side closed the game out to back up last week’s win in Clermont and have nine points from their opening couple of pool games.
Hooker Rob Herring gave Ulster the prefect start with a try with less that two minutes on the clock.
Mike Lowry and Stuart McCloskey had strong carries before prop Marty Moore rumbled forward, the ball was spread wide and James Hume had one of his trademark bursts through the defence.
The ball was quickly recycled and Herring broke a tackle to cross the whitewash, with John Cooney adding the conversion.
Out half George Furbank registered Saints’ first points with a seventh-minute penalty after Marcus Rea was guilty of not rolling away at the ruck.
Ulster were gifted a second try on 16 minutes as, following a driving maul from a lineout, Cooney spun the ball wide for Craig Gilroy, however, Saints scrum half Alex Mitchell tried to intercept.
Italian referee Andrea Piardi adjudged the Northampton pivot was the last defender and deliberately knocked on.
He awarded Ulster a penalty try and sin-binned Mitchell.
Rea conceded another penalty on 18 minutes, allowing Furback to slot over the resulting kick.
Ulster cut the Saints open again two minutes later when Hume put in a clearing kick which sat up nicely for Ethan McIlroy, the 21-year-old winger side-stepped the last defender and sprinted to the line.
He had another power to ground the ball at the second attempt for Ulster’s third try - but Cooney couldn’t convert.
Furbank was on target with another penalty three minutes later and then on target with his fourth successful kick on the half-hour mark after prop Andy Warwick went off his feet at the breakdown.
Ulster wasted an attacking lineout in the Saints’ 22 in first-half injury-time and had to be content with a 19-12 tally at the break.
Cooney slotted over a penalty on 45 minutes after Rea forced a turnover.
Gilroy wrapped up Ulster’s bonus point with the home side’s fourth try on 58 minutes.
Ulster kicked a penalty to the corner, from the lineout the forwards set up a driving maul but when it ran out of momentum Cooney fed Billy Burns, the Ireland out half spotted a one-on-one on the far side and put in a crossfield kick.
Saints full back Ahsee Tuala lost the flight of the ball in the floodlights, completely mistiming his jump.
Gilroy profited by gathering the loose ball and touching down with Cooney adding the conversion.
Mitchell caught the Ulster defence napping when he sniped over for an unconverted try on 60 minutes.
Saints set up a nervy finish as they produced their best move of the match with two minutes remaining.
A slick handling move was finished off by winger Courtnall Skosan that was enough to earn the English Premiership side a losing bonus point.
Ulster: M Lowry, C Gilroy, J Hume, S McCloskey, E McIlroy, B Burns, J Cooney, A Warwick, R Herring, M Moore; A O’Connor, I Henderson (capt), M Rea, N Timoney, D Vermeulen.
Replacements: J Andrew for Herring 56 mins, J McGrath for Warwick 60 mins, T O’Toole, for M Moore 56 mins K Treadwell for Henderson 46 mins, S Carter for O’Connor 65 mins, N Doak, S Moore for McCloskey 17 mins, G Jones for Rea 72 mins
Northampton Saints: A Tuala, O Sleightholme, M Proctor, F Dingwall, C Skosan, G Furbank, A Mitchell, A Waller, M Haywood, E Painter; D Ribbans, A Ratuniyarawa; C Lawes, L Ludlam (capt), T Wood,
Replacements: J Fish for Haywood 52 mins, E Iyogun for Waller 52 mins, C Carey fpr Painter 52 mins , A Coles for Ratuniyarawa 67 mins, J Augustus for Wood 56 mins, T James, J Grayson, R Hutchinson.
Referee: A Piardi (Italy).
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