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MATCH REPORT Saints undone by outstanding Ulster

Travis PerkinsSponsored by Travis Perkins

That was certainly the case at Franklin's Gardens as the Saints came up against a vintage Ulster performance which saw the visitors head home with a bonus point victory that entrenched their position at the top of Pool 4.

The four tries kept the scoreboard ticking over, but it was the irrepressible and impregnable defence which was Ulster's foundation and overwhelmed whatever Saints tried to throw at it.

Around the fringes the big runners were stopped. Out wide the pace men could not break through. Indeed wherever there was a green shirt with the ball there seemed to be two defenders in white, the first stopping the runner and the second keeping the maul in the air and more often than not either forcing a turnover or slowing down the play enough to allow the rest of the Ulster defence to get back in position.

That is not to say that Saints did not try their hardest. Samu Manoa, Courtney Lawes, Tom Wood, Dylan Hartley and GJ Van Velze all got the ball in their hands regularly, while Ben Foden, George Pisi and Dom Waldouck all tried to go around the outside.

But whether it was Martin Roberts and Ryan Lamb or Lee Dickson and Stephen Myler pulling the strings, Ulster had the answers.

And with two tries in each half coming through Andrew Trimble, Tommy Bowe, man of the match Jared Payne and Dan Tuohy the defensive work was rewarded.

The only thing that was missing was an accurate performance off the tee from Paddy Jackson. But on a night which saw a swirling wind come in from the north kicking proved difficult for both fly halves, with Lamb missing three of his five first-half shots at goal.

It was certainly uncharacteristic from Lamb, who had hit double figures in all three of his previous games, but even when he did land his first three-pointer at the end of the first quarter the failure to gather the re-start led to Jackson also getting onto the score sheet for the first time.

In the intervening period Ulster had crossed the whitewash for the first time. An astute kick and chase from Payne had forced Foden to kick short for a lineout, and while the Ulster pack's power was held in the first go for the line there was no one wide on the home right to stop Trimble diving onto a Jackson chip.

The second try, just past the half-hour, also owed a great deal to Payne's prowess with the boot. This time the kick brought a Saints lineout five metres from their line, and with the ball fumbled Ulster had the impetus once again and this time the space came on the right for Bowe to dive over in the Shrubbery Corner.

Saints' best chance also came from a kick. George Pisi's raking effort looked to be meat and drink for Jackson, but a fumble brought a five-metre scrum and an outstanding opportunity for the Saints. Unfortunately the visitors' wheel broke up the set piece, the ball squirted out and Saints were eventually penalised.

Lamb converted his second penalty on the stroke of half-time, but while Saints were back to within a converted try they still needed to get the first points of the second half.

Unfortunately those points came from Payne. Ironically enough the try came from a good Lamb bomb which had enough hang time to give the chasers plenty of opportunity to get upfield.

But Payne beat George Pisi to the ball, and when play was recycled quickly the overlap put Saints under pressure. Darren Cave and Ruan Pienaar were stopped, but the support was there and Payne strolled over.

Saints continued to try their best, but although they won back the kick off again came up against Ulster's physical, wrestling defence. One such tackle brought a scrum, and the power earned a penalty from which Jackson took a shot from 55 metres.

It was an ambitious shot which while it dropped short still put Saints under pressure. Ironically enough it sparked the Saints' best attack from deep. Lamb took off from the sticks and Jamie Elliott bounced Johann Muller in a charge which led to Ulster's captain being replaced with an arm injury.

Elliott is a player who has deceptive power, and the winger came closest of any Saint to a try, forcing his way over the whitewash only to be held up by Pienaar. Tom May also had sight of the line from the subsequent scrum, but the fumble of the pass summed Saints' night up, as did the earlier tackle which stopped George Pisi getting the ball away to two unmarked players in his own half.

This came during Saints' best period of the game in terms of possession and territory. But by now they were 14 points behind and trying to overcome not just the defence out wide but Ulster's adeptness at slowing things down in the tight.

Iain Henderson may have seen yellow for one infringement, but it did not seem to matter too much to Ulster, who remained well in control. And when Tuohy finished things off it had added the final gloss to Ulster's performance.


3mins SAINTS Miss pen Lamb

9mins ULSTER Try Trimble 0-5

12mins SAINTS Miss pen Lamb

16mins ULSTER Miss pen Jackson

20mins SAINTS Pen Lamb 3-5

23mins ULSTER Pen Jackson 3-8

25mins SAINTS Miss DG Lamb

26mins SAINTS Miss pen Lamb

33mins ULSTER Try Bowe 3-13

40mins SAINTS Pen Lamb 6-13


44mins ULSTER Try Payne Con Jackson 6-20

48mins ULSTER Miss pen Jackson

71mins ULSTER Yellow card Henderson

78mins ULSTER Try Tuohy 6-25


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