Northampton Saints 27 Ulster 35: Tom Vickers' review and player ratings

Saints may not have booked their place in the Challenge Cup semi-finals on Saturday night, but it certainly wasn't for the lack of trying.

Sunday, 11th April 2021, 2:05 pm
Updated Sunday, 11th April 2021, 2:06 pm
Ollie Sleightholme scored yet again
Ollie Sleightholme scored yet again

The black, green and gold put in a huge shift as they tried to overcome an Ulster side who had demolished Harlequins' second string six days earlier.

But in the end, despite a gargantuan tackle count and plenty of moments of quality, Saints couldn't get over the line as Ulster outlasted them.

When John Cooney stretched out an arm and then converted to put the away side ahead late on, the stuffing had been knocked out of Saints.

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Alex Mitchell was on the mark early on

They never looked like threatening in the final eight minutes and it was Ulster who scored again, through Jacob Stockdale, to make sure of their semi-final spot.

Saints had nothing left after putting so much effort into a first half in which they were again blighted by yellow cards.

After being hit by three sin-binnings during the epic win at the Dragons a week earlier, here they were suffering another hat-trick of woe.

It meant across 120 minutes of rugby, French referee Alexandre Ruiz had dished out six yellow cards to Saints - and a penalty try.

Tommy Freeman scored twice

The ability to maintain discipline under severe pressure is a hallmark of top teams and at the highest level, Saints aren't quite there yet.

They still have a way to go, but with the amount of desire they possess, they should get there eventually.

Eventually the tiredness of torso and mind seemed to tell as Ulster pounced late on and then rubbed salt in the wound.

It will have been so tough to take for men such as Lewis Ludlam and Teimana Harrison, who were like sons of the Tasmanian Devil, tearing around the field with relentless abandon.

They didn't deserve to be on the losing side, but there will be plenty more wins for them to sample if they carry on like this.

Saints will now get a week off later this month and that should be important in their bid to make the Premiership play-offs.

If Chris Boyd's side do make it, they will take plenty of lessons from this Saturday night in Northampton into their next knockout encounter.

And you never know, this tough experience could well be the making of them in the weeks and months to come.

How they rated...

TOMMY FREEMAN

Certainly knows his way to the try line and not only did he score twice here, but he also made a big try-saving tackle. Saints will desperately hope his injury isn't serious... 8.5

OLLIE SLEIGHTHOLME

Scored his now customary try and was always a threat to Ulster when he got the chance to run into space... 7

RORY HUTCHINSON

Wasn't really able to have the kind of creative impact on the game as he would have liked as he often received the ball deep and couldn't threaten Ulster in dangerous areas too much... 6

PIERS FRANCIS

Racked up the tackles once again as he put his body on the line for the team, while also taking on kicking duties... 7

TAQELE NAIYARAVORO

Made a big carry that helped Saints to score early on but his hard work came at a cost as he was forced off with concussion after just seven minutes

DAN BIGGAR

Wasn't able to take kicks at goal but fronted up physically, making a huge amount of tackles for his team and pulling the strings when he got the ball in hand... 7

ALEX MITCHELL

Started the scoring for Saints and also played a huge role in a try for Tommy Freeman as he showed he was switched on here... 7.5

ALEX WALLER

We finally found out the secret to his longevity as he revealed that he is Batman during the second half (he was wearing a Batman undershirt), but he couldn't fly to victory here... 7

SAM MATAVESI

Another really strong showing from the hooker, who threatened with ball in hand and at the breakdown. Was hit by a sin-binning... 7.5

PAUL HILL

Wasn't able to replicate the heroics of weeks gone by as he never really got the chance to audition for a centre role here. Didn't do much wrong though... 6.5

DAVID RIBBANS

Found himself on the wrong side of the referee, conceding a few penalties and paying the price for Saints' persistent offending with a sin-binning... 6

ALEX COLES

Put in a huge amount of work, racking up 15 tackles. This will be great experience for the young lock... 7

NICK ISIEKWE

Found himself in the sin bin early on and ran the risk of a red, but still managed to contribute to the team... 6

LEWIS LUDLAM

Like Teimana Harrison, this man put everything he had into this game, with his ferocity showing in attack and defence. A huge performance... 9

TEIMANA HARRISON - CHRON STAR MAN

An absolutely gargantuan shift yet again from the No.8, who topped the Saints charts for tackles (26) and carries (13) and was second in metres made (72). What a player. 9

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

AHSEE TUALA (for Naiyaravoro 7)

Has looked really sharp in recent weeks and he was again here, delivering a fine assist for Sleightholme's try, topping the Saints charts for offloads... 8

FRASER DINGWALL (for Freeman 56)

Came into the game with Saints in the lead and on the front foot but Ulster started to get a grip on the game and made it difficult late on... 6