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Ulster Rugby will be looking to end their run of four quarter-final defeats in European competition as they go up against Northampton Saints in the European Rugby Challenge Cup.
Ulster will hope that the Challenge Cup brings greater success after being beaten the last four times they have reached the quarter-finals of the Heineken Champions Cup.
It is Northampton’s sixth quarter-final appearance in the Challenge Cup – they beat another Irish province in Connacht Rugby at the same stage in 2009 on their way to lifting the trophy.
Ulster come into the game off the back of a 57-21 thrashing of Harlequins in the Round of 16, while Northampton edged past Dragons in a 43-39 thriller.
The game at Franklin’s Gardens gets underway at 20:00 (UK and Irish time) and will be aired live on BT Sport in the United Kingdom and beIN SPORTS in France.
Northampton Saints; 8th in Heineken Champions Cup Pool A; 1 point
Ulster Rugby; 9th in Heineken Champions Cup Pool B; 3 points
Round of 16
Dragons 39-43 Northampton Saints
Harlequins 21-57 Ulster Rugby
European Head-to-head record
The sides have never met in the European Rugby Challenge Cup.
Leading 2020/21 points-scorers
Northampton Saints: James Grayson (13)
Ulster Rugby: John Cooney (13)
Robert Baloucoune with the drive 💪
Stuart McCloskey with the finish 👊@UlsterRugby put on a commanding display at Twickenham Stoop last weekend scoring 8⃣ tries 👊
— Challenge Cup (@ERChallengeCup) April 8, 2021
Teimana Harrison (Northampton Saints): “We really showed the character of this team. We’re inexperienced but you can’t write us off. The 14 players we were missing on Saturday is a big chunk of our team, so for these young guys to step up, it’s just the DNA we’re trying to instill in this squad. Massive credit to the boys.”
- Northampton Saints have faced Ulster five times in European competition, all in the Heineken Champions Cup (W3 L2); including one quarter-final clash, the Premiership side winning that one 23-13 in 2011.
- Northampton Saints have won eight of their last nine home games in the Challenge Cup (L1); they won their last home game 111-3, against Timisoara Saracens in January 2019, the last time a team won by a 100+ points margin in the competition.
- Northampton Saints will play their sixth quarter final in the Challenge Cup, winning two of the previous five; however, one of their two wins at this stage came against an Irish side, Connacht in 2009 (42-13), on their way to lifting the trophy that year.
- Saints have lost their last five European fixtures (all Heineken Champions Cup) against Irish opposition, all those games did come against four-times Champions Cup winners Leinster however.
- Ulster have lost each of their last four quarter-finals played in European competition, all in the Heineken Champions Cup, and have lost the three instances where they have faced a English side at that stage.
- Ulster have won five of their last seven away games against a Premiership team in European competition (L2), one more win than in their first 21 away games against teams from England (W4 L17).
- Only two players made more carries than Ulster’s Sean Reidy (16) in the Challenge Cup Round of 16 last weekend, whilst team mate Nick Timoney made the joint third most tackles (23).
- Ulster duo Sean Reidy and Rob Herring both grabbed a brace of tries against Harlequins in the Round of 16, two of just five forwards with multiple tries overall in the Challenge Cup this season.
Match Centre - Preview - Lineups
Ulster Rugby fought back from eight points behind to eventually defeat Northampton Saints 35-27 in a gripping European Rugby Challenge Cup quarter-final at Franklin’s Gardens.
The visitors called upon their star men in scrum-half John Cooney and wing Jacob Stockdale who both crossed the whitewash in the final 20 minutes to secure a spot in the last four of the Challenge Cup.
Alex Mitchell crossed for the hosts inside seven minutes, but ill discipline saw them surrender that early lead as Nick Isiekwe, Sam Matavesi and then Dave Ribbans all headed for the sin bin in the first half.
The second of them infringements meant referee Alexandre Ruiz awarded a penalty try, whilst Ulster soon took advantage of their extra men with Rob Herring crossing from the driving maul.
Look at the pack power from @UlsterRugby!
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) April 10, 2021
But Northampton were in no mood to lie down as Challenge Cup debutant Tommy Freeman ran in two tries in three minutes to put the English side eight points ahead at the break.
Ulster’s power game came to the fore at the start of the second half as Marty Moore powered over, but Northampton would again move into a six-point lead.
Ahsee Tuala dragged in two Ulster defenders before offloading to Ollie Sleightholme who dotted down in the corner, although Francis’ conversion was hooked wide.
Tommy Freeman off like a rocket!
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) April 10, 2021
The Irish province clicked up a gear in the final 20 minutes though, in a spell that saw them over the finish line in front.
The first of two tries came from an inventive quick line-out that gained quick metres, before Cooney looked like he was shuffling out wide but instead picked a gap and managed to dot down before converting his own try.
And the match was won on 74 minutes when Billy Burns made a great read, faking the kick and instead hitting Jacob Stockdale who split the Northampton line and diving over to send Ulster into the last four.