Knockout rugby returns to Franklin’s Gardens for the first time this season on Saturday, as Northampton Saints take on Ulster in the European Challenge Cup – we’ve crunched the numbers ahead of a mouthwatering quarter-final showdown...
For anyone who saw Michael Lowry’s try against Harlequins last weekend going viral on social media, it will come as no surprise that the blistering fullback was one of the PRO14’s most dangerous attackers this season.
The diminutive star made just shy of 600 metres with ball in hand, and beat 35 defenders from 11 clean breaks, ranking him comfortably among the top 20 players for each of these stats.
And while the visitors will likely be without Pro14 Player of the Season Marcel Coetzee, they’ve still got plenty of talent in the back row, with Ireland-capped duo Jordi Murphy (125) and Sean Reidy (129) both ranking among the top tacklers for 2020/21.
HITTING THE GROUND RUNNING
Saints can ill afford a slow start akin to the one they produced in Newport last weekend, with Ulster showing they can blow hot right out of the blocks.
The men from Ravenhill blazed into a 24-0 lead at Harlequins inside half an hour during their Round of 16 victory, going on to rack up eight tries to the Saints’ six in victory.
It was a clinical display from the Ulstermen who, despite not dominating possession, managed to make an impressive 5.6 metres per carry on the evening.
While Saints were able to match their visitors for metres made (466 vs 462), their average was at 3.6.
Remarkably, Saturday’s game marks exactly a decade since the two sides met in a memorable European quarter-final in Milton Keynes.
Saints came out on top that day in a 23-13 victory en route to the final, with tries from Soane Tonga’uiha and Lee Dickson.
From that sun-soaked afternoon, Tom Wood, Alex Waller and Courtney Lawes remain a part of the Saints squad today, with both Wood and Waller set to take their place in the 23 at the Gardens for the re-match.
Phil Dowson will also be involved from the coaches’ bench, while for Ulster only unused substitute from 2011, Craig Gilroy, is still part of the playing setup at Ravenhill.