Ulster have been cut to 9/2 to win the Heineken Cup – and it would take a brave man to bet against them based on their gargantuan showing at Saints.
The Irish side were ruthless at both ends of the pitch on Friday night, taking opportunities when they came, and snuffing out any threat Saints posed.
For Jim Mallinder’s men it’s back to the drawing board ahead of a daunting trip to Ravenhill on Saturday.
Saints were simply not at the races against a side who look like they have the stamina and speed to overcome any hurdle that may come their way in European competition this season.
This defeat will hurt Northampton. Not only because they lost 25-6 on their own turf, but because they deserved to lose.
The second half, when you expected them to show their teeth after a sub-standard opening 40 minutes, saw the home side penned in by a white wall.
Only in the final 10 minutes, with scrum-half Lee Dickson’s intervention from the bench, did Saints look like scoring.
But even with a man more after Ulster’s irrepressible forward Ian Henderson was binned, they couldn’t find a way through.
It was another game against one of Europe’s big-hitters that went past without a Saints try. They suffered similar torment against Saracens and Leicester in the Premiership.
Something has to be done. A spark is needed.
Whether that comes from a new backs coach – and they don’t grow on trees – or a change of personnel on the pitch – Luther Burrell could be an option – a new dimension is necessary.
Saints have become a little predictable, and that will hurt those in charge, those in the team and those who pay to watch them.
But the situation is not insurmountable. The season is far from over.
Massive Premiership games follow whatever happens in Belfast next weekend, with Harlequins, Saracens and Exeter on the agenda after the Ulster return.
It’s a tricky festive schedule and one which doesn’t promise much cheer on current form.
But as they say – form is temporary, class is permanent. And don’t forget this Saints side started the season with five successive victories.
Just as Ulster are capable of keeping up their fine run, which sees them boast 13 wins from as many games this season, Saints have the ability to get on one of their own.
For now though, we must stand up and applaud the Ulstermen.
How they fared...
Usually the one to give Saints the necessary go-forward, but was shut down every time he tried to mount a surge... 6
Showed endeavour as he tried to break down the white wall, but a couple of flashes of skill were snuffed out... 5
So often a man Saints look to to provide spark in attack, but he had no change out of a resilient Ulster defence... 6
Always gives his all but Saints need more than that against sides for whom crushing attacks is a healthy habit... 5
Barely got his hands on the ball as he and his team-mates struggled to get out of their own half for long periods of the game... 5
Has played well during the past two weeks, but was not at the same level here. Didn’t kick well, missing three of his five penalty chances, and his face said it all when he was replaced... 5
Couldn’t inject much-needed tempo into Saints as they stuttered in attack and looks unlikely to start next week if Lee Dickson, who came on to good effect, is fully fit... 5
Didn’t have much joy up front, though Saints did at least hold their own in that department. None of the rampaging runs, which helped him make his name, were on show... 5
At least showed some passion in the second half as he tried to carry his team to a recovery, but it wasn’t to be... 6
Couldn’t get on top of the Ulster forwards and was unable to punch a hole in the Irish side’s defence as Saints looked to their big men for some inspiration... 6
The human wrecking ball gave it his all as he looked to find a way through the Ulster defence, but they stood tall against the American’s rampaging runs... 6
Not at his best in this one. Always a ferocious tackler but not the greatest handling displays with the pressure really on... 5
A proper competitor, this will have hurt him. Saints just couldn’t get the upper hand as Ulster held firm... 5
His man of the match award in England’s outstanding win against the All Blacks will feel like a long time ago now... 6
GERRIT-JAN VAN VELZE
Couldn’t make a big impact on proceedings and still has something to prove when it comes to the big games... 5
Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)
Was the one shining light for Saints as he helped them up the tempo in the final flings of the game. Must start in Belfast... 6
Added extra power to the Saints pack and helped them compete better. A good cameo from the back row forward ... 6