Dan McFarland has named an unchanged starting line up for the first time since December 2018 as Iain Henderson fails to recover from a shoulder injury.
The only change comes on the replacemnets’ bench as Matthew Rea comes in for Cormac Izuchukwu who picked up an injury in his cameo appearance last week.
Ulster’s pack had an armchair ride last week, blitzing a weakened Harlequins signed with ease in the first half. I can’t imagine tonight’s game will be as comfortable.
Northampton have a few injury concerns of their own with Courtney Lawes, Matt Proctor, Api Ratuniyarawa, Owen Franks and George Furbank all absent, but they welcome Dan Biggar, Piers Francis, Nick Isiekwe and Lewis Ludlam back into the team. Sam Matevesi and Teimana Harrison are bruising ball carriers for the home side while second row David Ribbans is enjoying a very good season and is on the cusp of international honours.
Ollie Sleightholme is their top try scorer in the Premiership with five, but four of those tries came in a nine try win over Worcester Warriors two weeks ago. Only 20 years of age, he’s 16 tries in 24 appearances for the Midlands side and is a big threat from the right wing position.
Chris Boyd was very disappointed with the defeat to UBB in round 1 of the Champions Cup which signalled an end to their interest in the competition as they sent a rotated side to the RDS the following week and their comfortably defeated. They lost their opening five games of this season before a win v Worcester halted their poor run. Three away wins in 2021 against Gloucester, Exeter Chiefs and Wasps have catapulted them in to play off contention and they are now 5th, four points of Harlequins in 4th.
Two friendlies were played between the sides in 2016 and 2017 but you have to go back to 2012 before you find the last competitive game between the sides. Saints won that match, ending Ulster’s 13 match winning run with a 10-9 win at Ravenhill and they were the opposition when Ulster reached their first knockout match since 1999 in 2011 which Ulster lost. A Jared Payne inspired Ulster side came away from Franklin’s Gardens with a memorable win in 2012.
|13-10-02||European Cup||Franklin’s Gardens||Antonio Lombardi||9||32|
|17-1-03||European Cup||Ravenhill||Joel Dume||16||13|
|10-4-11||European Cup||StadiumMK||Romain Poite||13||23|
|7-12-12||European Cup||Franklin’s Gardens||Jerome Garces||25||6|
|15-12-12||European Cup||Ravenhill||Nigel Owens||9||10|
The man in the middle
Alexandre Ruiz takes the whistle for this game. Last week he yellow carded three Saints players and a Dragon in the Challenge Cup round of 16 tie. His last involvement with Ulster was the away defeat to Gloucester where Ethan McIlroy, Alan O’Connor and Rob Herring all spent time in the bin while he awarded a penalty try to the hosts. Out of the seven matches he has officiated, that’s the only defeat Ulster has suffered.
|7-12-18||European Cup||Scarlets||Parc y Scarlets||25||24|
|19-1-19||European Cup||Leicester Tigers||Welford Road||14||13|
|Tommy Freeman||15||Michael Lowry|
|Ollie Sleightholme||14||Robert Baloucoune|
|Rory Hutchinson||13||James Hume|
|Piers Francis||12||Stuart McCloskey|
|Taqele Naiyaravoro||11||Jacob Stockdale|
|Dan Biggar||10||Billy Burns|
|Alex Mitchell||9||John Cooney|
|Alex Waller||1||Eric O’Sullivan|
|Samuel Matavesi||2||Rob Herring|
|Paul Hill||3||Marty Moore|
|David Ribbans||4||Alan O’Connor|
|Alex Coles||5||Kieran Treadwell|
|Nick Isiekwe||6||Sean Reidy|
|Lewis Ludlam||7||Jordi Murphy|
|Teimana Harrison||8||Nick Timoney|
|Mike Haywood||16||John Andrew|
|Nick Auterac||17||Andrew Warwick|
|Ehren Painter||18||Tom O’Toole|
|Alex Moon||19||Cormac Izuchukwu|
|Tom Wood||20||Matthew Rea|
|Tom James||21||Alby Mathewson|
|Ahsee Tuala||22||Ian Madigan|
|Fraser Dingwall||23||Ethan McIlroy|
The FRU Predicts: Away from home against a decent Northampton Saints side I think Ulster will edge over the line and secure a spot in tomorrow’s semi final draw but the pack won’t have it all their own way like they had last week.