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Ulster Rugby will be seeking to protect a stunning home record when they host Northampton Saints in the Heineken Champions Cup on Friday night.
They have won 13 of their last 15 home games in the competition – but did suffer defeat in their most recent Heineken Champions Cup match at the Kingspan Stadium, when they faced Stade Toulousain. However, the Irish province will be reassured to note that they have not lost consecutive home games in the Heineken Champions Cup since 2014, when they lost to Saracens and then RC Toulon.
The Pool A encounter kicks off at 8pm UK time in Belfast, and is available to watch on BT Sport and beIN SPORTS.
Other key facts:
- This will be the sixth clash between Ulster and Northampton in the Heineken Champions Cup (Ulster have won two with Northampton winning three) – but it’s the first meeting since the pool stage in 2012/13 – when each club picked up an away victory.
- Northampton have won only two of their 10 away games against Irish teams in the Heineken Champions Cup, losing eight, but one of those wins came against Ulster, 10-9 in December 2012. They have lost their last three trips to Ireland, though, by an average margin of 31 points.
- Northampton (2/2) and Ulster (7/7) were two of seven teams to record a 100% goalkicking success rate in the opening round of this season’s Heineken Champions Cup; overall, only Racing 92 (8) made more successful placekicks than the Irish province.
- Ulster’s James Hume topped the charts for the most offloads in the opening round of the 2021/22 Heineken Champions Cup with four, while only Antoine Dupont (11) beat more defenders than the 23-year-old centre (8).
Ulster assistant coach Dan Soper told the BBC: “The very top teams in Europe and in domestic leagues are the teams that have big results and then back them up the next week. If we want to be a team that sits at the top table then that is what we need to do.
“You want to find that lovely balance where you win but you are still looking to push your game on and not be completely satisfied. We know we are not the finished article by any stretch, so we have got a lot that we can keep striving to get better at.”
Northampton director of rugby Chris Boyd: “We’re going to have to look very carefully at those guys that we’ve been nurturing along for a couple of weeks now. We might have to give them a bit of time off to get them right for the next block, but we’ll take the best team we can to Ulster who are fit to play, and we know that we need to get some points from that game if we want to stay in the hunt in this competition.”
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Ulster Rugby made it two wins from two in this season’s Heineken Champions Cup as they overcame Northampton Saints 27-22 for a bonus point win at Kingspan Stadium on Friday night.
The hosts controlled much of the Pool A encounter but were ran close as Northampton stuck to their task and crossed for two second-half tries.
Ulster flew out of the blocks at the start of the game and crossed for an opening try with just under a minute played as hooker Rob Herring hit a hard line to blast over the whitewash from close range.
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) December 17, 2021
Northampton notched their first points through a George Furbank penalty, but the visitors would receive a double blow on 15 minutes as Ulster were awarded a penalty try and scrum-half Alex Mitchell was yellow carded for deliberate knock-on.
Saints once again responded through a Furbank three-pointer but conceded a third try on 19 minutes as Ulster winger Ethan McIlroy produced a brilliant side-step and change of pace to get over the line after good work from centre James Hume.
Despite Ulster spending much of the first half on top, two further Furbank penalties kept the deficit at seven points heading into the break.
"We said we want to be serious about Europe this year."
"We mean business."
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) December 17, 2021
The Irish province would however extend their advantage through a John Cooney penalty early in the second half, before winger Craig Gilroy gathered over the line for a bonus point try on 57 minutes following a misjudgment from Northampton full-back Ahsee Tuala.
The Gallagher Premiership side continued to battle, though, and three minutes later Mitchell atoned for his earlier sin bin as he wriggled over the line for the visitors’ first try of the game.
Saints winger Courtnall Skosan then set up a tense finale as he forced his way over late on for his second Heineken Champions Cup try in two games, but Ulster held on for another important victory after their success at ASM Clermont Auvergne last weekend.