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Biggar, Ludlam, Isiekwe and Ribbans return for European quarter-final

Dan Biggar, Lewis Ludlam, Nick Isiekwe and David Ribbans are among nine changes to Northampton Saints’ starting line-up as Chris Boyd names his side to face Ulster Rugby in the European Challenge Cup quarter-final this Saturday (kick-off 8pm).

Boyd’s side head into their third consecutive European quarter-final since the Kiwi coach took the reins, but their first on home soil since 2014, and welcome the Ulstermen to Franklin’s Gardens tomorrow for the first time in eight years.

Saints and Ulster have not locked horns in a competitive clash since the reverse fixture in 2012, and have an almost 50/50 record in their previous meetings – but it was Northampton who ran out victors the last time the sides met in a quarter-final, a decade ago to the day. 

However, with Ulster having won five of their last seven matches on the road against English opposition, Saints will have their work cut out if they are to reach their first European semi-final since lifting the Challenge Cup trophy in 2014. 

Club co-captain Ludlam returns to the side at flanker alongside Isiekwe, with the pair joining in-form Teimana Harrison in the back row, while Ribbans also comes back into the starting line-up to partner Alex Coles in the engine room. 

Alex Waller leads the side alongside Ludlam from loosehead prop, with Sam Matavesi and Paul Hill selected alongside him in a new-look front row. 

Alex Mitchell retains the No.9 shirt and is joined in the half-back berths by Biggar, who shakes off an abdominal injury to start at fly-half for the first time since returning from international duty.

Ollie Sleightholme and Taqele Naiyaravoro continue on Saints’ wings and Rory Hutchinson shifts to outside centre to make room for the returning Piers Francis in the hosts’ midfield, with Tommy Freeman meanwhile rounding off the side at fullback. 

Prop Ehren Painter is set to make his 50th appearance in Black, Green and Gold from the bench, while Alex Moon, Tom Wood, Tom James and Fraser Dingwall will also look to make an impact from amongst the replacements. 

NORTHAMPTON SAINTS vs ULSTER RUGBY
European Challenge Cup, Quarter-Final
Saturday 10 April 2021
Franklin’s Gardens
Kick-off: 8pm

15 Tommy Freeman
14 Ollie Sleightholme
13 Rory Hutchinson
12 Piers Francis
11 Taqele Naiyaravoro
10 Dan Biggar
9 Alex Mitchell

1 Alex Waller (co-capt)
2 Sam Matavesi
3 Paul Hill
4 David Ribbans
5 Alex Coles
6 Nick Isiekwe
7 Lewis Ludlam (co-capt)
8 Teimana Harrison

Replacements:
16 Mike Haywood
17 Nick Auterac
18 Ehren Painter
19 Alex Moon
20 Tom Wood
21 Tom James
22 Ahsee Tuala
23 Fraser Dingwall

Not available due to injury:
Owen Franks (foot), George Furbank (calf), Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi (achilles), Courtney Lawes (pectoral), Matt Proctor (calf), Api Ratuniyarawa (shoulder), and Kayde Sylvester (achilles).

Referee: Alexandre Ruiz
Assistant Referees: Jack Makepeace and Jonathan Healy
TMO: Patrick Dellac 
Citing Commissioner: Sebastien Lorant-Raze