Ulster are relishing the prospect of playing in front of their fervent home support at Ravenhill, but will be wary of a Northampton side who are still capable of producing a big performance in this pre-Christmas cracker.
HEINEKEN CUP POOL 4: Saturday, December 15
ULSTER (1st) v NORTHAMPTON SAINTS (2nd), Ravenhill, 6pm (live Sky Sports 1/HD1/BBC Radio Ulster MW/Newstalk/highlights TG4)
Team News: Chris Henry has been named as captain for the second of Ulster’s back-to-back Heineken Cup Pool 4 clashes with Northampton Saints at Ravenhill on Saturday.
The selected team has just one personnel change and one positional switch from the Ulster side that beat Northampton 25-6 at Franklin’s Gardens last Friday night.
Regular skipper Johann Muller is sidelined with a displaced fracture in his arm, so 20-year-old Iain Henderson, who made his Ireland debut in November, has moved into the second row to partner fellow international Dan Tuohy.
New Zealander Nick Williams has been promoted from the replacements bench to fill the vacant loose forward spot, slotting in alongside stand-in captain Chris Henry and former Saint Roger Wilson.
Andrew Trimble will make his 50th Heineken Cup appearance in Saturday’s encounter, following in the footsteps of Paddy Wallace and Tommy Bowe, who did so in rounds 2 and 3 of the competition respectively.
There is only one change among the replacements as Neil McComb steps in to replace the promoted Williams. Ricky Lutton will make his Heineken Cup debut if he takes to the pitch at any time during Friday’s game.
The 26-year-old development prop has made one previous appearance – as a replacement in the RaboDirect PRO12 win over Edinburgh last month.
A victory for Ulster over Northampton would be another massive step towards progression to the knockout stages for the third consecutive season.
However, after much criticism regarding the manner of their defeat in the previous round, Northampton will be arriving at Ravenhill determined to gain revenge.
Meanwhile, Northampton Saints will take to the Ravenhill pitch with a team showing six changes to the one that started the sides’ round 3 tussle.
Out go Ryan Lamb and Martin Roberts, who were ineffective at Franklin’s Gardens, with Stephen Myler and Lee Dickson taking over at half-back.
Dom Waldouck’s place at inside centre has gone to Tom May, while suspended captain Dylan Hartley, who has been banned for two weeks for striking Rory Best, makes way at hooker for Mike Haywood.
The other alterations in the pack see Paul Doran Jones come in at tighthead prop for the benched Brian Mujati and Phil Dowson, who captains the Saints, has been drafted in at openside flanker.
Courtney Lawes is the player to make way with Calum Clark moving into the second row and Tom Wood reverting to the blindside flanker role.
ULSTER: Jared Payne; Tommy Bowe, Darren Cave, Paddy Wallace, Andrew Trimble; Paddy Jackson, Ruan Pienaar; Tom Court, Rory Best, John Afoa, Iain Henderson, Dan Tuohy, Nick Williams, Chris Henry (capt), Roger Wilson.
Replacements: Nigel Brady, Callum Black, Ricky Lutton, Neil McComb, Robbie Diack, Paul Marshall, Luke Marshall, Craig Gilroy.
NORTHAMPTON SAINTS: Ben Foden; Ken Pisi, George Pisi, Tom May, Jamie Elliott; Stephen Myler, Lee Dickson; Soane Tonga’uiha, Mike Haywood, Paul Doran Jones, Samu Manoa, Calum Clark, Tom Wood, Phil Dowson (capt), GJ van Velze.
Replacements: Ross McMillan, Alex Waller, Brian Mujati, Mark Sorenson, Courtney Lawes, Martin Roberts, Ryan Lamb, Luther Burrell.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Gwyn Morris, Jonathan Mason (both Wales)
Television Match Official: Derek Bevan (Wales)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Ulster to win: 1/7; Draw: 22/1; Northampton Saints to win: 5/1
Pre-Match Quotes: Mark Anscombe (Ulster) – “We’ve got a lot of experience here. The front row (Tom Court, Rory Best and John Afoa) has got a combined tally of about 128 Test matches and we’ve got outside backs (Andrew Trimble and Tommy Bowe) who have had 50-odd Tests as well.
“What that experience brings is, ‘I’ve been here and done these sorts of things before’. You enjoy your victories, as the boys did last Friday. But the fact is it (winning away to Northampton) counts for nothing.
“You too often see in competitions, even at international level, a good performance backed up by a poor one.
“We’ve very much talked about keeping our feet on the ground as we know we’ve got an equal battle coming on Saturday night.”
Jim Mallinder (Northampton Saints) – “Ulster played very well last week, but we massively underperformed as well and the players are extremely determined to put things right this weekend.
“Saturday evening’s match is as hard as they come. Ravenhill is a tough place to play and we know the form that Ulster have at the moment.
“Last week’s match hurt for everyone at the club – players, coaches and supporters. This has provided plenty of motivation for all of us to perform at the level we know we can and we are heading to Belfast ready to meet the challenge head on.”
Current Form – Ulster – (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 18-10 at home to Glasgow Warriors; Won 16-13 away to the Ospreys; Won 20-19 at home to Munster; Won 48-19 away to the Cardiff Blues; Won 25-0 at home to Connacht; (Heineken Cup): Won 41-17 at home to Castres Olympique; Won 19-8 away to Glasgow Warriors; (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 46-19 away to the Newport Gwent Dragons; Won 45-20 at home to Edinburgh; Won 27-25 away to Zebre; Won 16-15 away to Benetton Treviso; Won 19-12 away to the Scarlets; (Heineken Cup): Won 25-6 away to Northampton Saints
Northampton Saints – (Aviva Premiership): Won 24-19 away to Gloucester; Won 24-21 at home to Exeter Chiefs; Won 18-14 away to Bath; Won 37-31 at home to Worcester Warriors; Won 24-6 at home to London Wasps; Lost 39-17 away to London Irish; (Heineken Cup): Won 24-15 at home to Glasgow Warriors; Lost 21-16 away to Castres Olympique; (Aviva Premiership): Lost 16-6 at home to Saracens; Lost 16-12 away to Leicester Tigers; (LV= Cup): Lost 31-30 at home to Harlequins; Won 30-20 away to the Newport Gwent Dragons; (Aviva Premiership): Won 23-16 at home to London Welsh; Won 27-16 away to Sale Sharks; (Heineken Cup): Lost 25-6 at home to Ulster
Top Scorers – 2012/13 Heineken Cup: Ulster – Points: Paddy Jackson 40; Tries: Paul Marshall, Andrew Trimble 2 each; Northampton Saints – Points: Stephen Myler 18; Tries: George Pisi 3
Previous European Meetings: 4
Sunday, October 13, 2002 – Pool 6 – Northampton Saints 32 Ulster 9, Franklin’s Gardens
Friday, January 17, 2003 – Pool 6 – Ulster 16 Northampton Saints 13, Ravenhill
Sunday, April 10, 2011 – Quarter-final – Northampton Saints 23 Ulster 13, stadium:mk
Friday, December 7, 2012 – Pool 4 – Northampton Saints 6 Ulster 25, Franklin’s Gardens
Match Facts And Figures –
– Ken Pisi is the top metre-maker (317) in the Heineken Cup this season. The Saints winger has also made the most clean breaks (7), but is yet to score a try
– Ulster back rower Chris Henry has completed all 39 tackles he has attempted this season, only his Ireland colleague Jamie Heaslip (40) has made more
– Ulster have completed 94% of their attempted tackles this season, the best success rate in the competition
– Ulster have won the most turnovers (37) this season, conversely Northampton have turned over the most ball (58)
Heineken Cup Records:
2010/11: Reached the quarter-finals
2009/10: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2008/09: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2007/08: Failed to qualify from Pool 2
2006/07: Failed to qualify from Pool 5
2005/06: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2004/05: Failed to qualify from Pool 6
2003/04: Failed to qualify from Pool 1
2002/03: Failed to qualify from Pool 6
2001/02: Failed to qualify from Pool 2
2000/01: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
1999/00: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
1997/98: Failed to qualify from Pool B
1996/97: Failed to qualify from Pool C
1995/96: Failed to qualify from Pool B
Northampton Saints –
2011/12: Failed to qualify from Pool 1
2009/10: Reached the quarter-finals
2006/07: Reached the semi-finals
2004/05: Reached the quarter-finals
2003/04: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2002/03: Reached the quarter-finals
2001/02: Failed to qualify from Pool 5
2000/01: Failed to qualify from Pool 1