Tom Vickers’ view and player ratings: Saints cross the line at last

GOTCHA - Lee Dickson brings down Ulster's Tommy Bowe (Picture: William Cherry/Presseye)
GOTCHA - Lee Dickson brings down Ulster's Tommy Bowe (Picture: William Cherry/Presseye)

Saints boss Jim Mallinder was keen to point out that one win doesn’t make a season after the stunning success at Ravenhill.

But, secretly, he will know just how important the victory against previously 100 per cent Ulster side could prove to be, not only for this campaign, but for years to come.

This Saints team has finally proved it can stand up to one of Europe’s big boys on their own turf, and come out unscathed.

Had they lost the game, the doubt that was bred by defeats to teams like Munster and Leinster in recent years may have resurfaced.

Had Ruan Pienaar kicked that penalty in the final two minutes, there would have been flashbacks of Ronan O’Gara, whose drop goal killed Saints after the clock went dead at Munster last season.

But this wasn’t to be another Thomond Park.

It wasn’t to be another Leinster, when a second half saw Saints crumble and lose their lead.

It wasn’t to be another Harlequins, where Saints enjoyed an eight-point advantage until agonisingly giving the game away in the final flings.

It wasn’t to be a gritty away defeat to Leicester or Saracens, where Northampton come out with credit, but not the four points.

This was different. And it could prove to be a watershed moment because when Saints are next faced with such adversity, they know they’ve been there, done it and got the t-shirt.

Okay, in terms of Heineken Cup pool four, Ulster still look favourites to go through top of the tree.

And Saints still have a real fight on their hands to qualify for the knockout stages.

But this win wasn’t just about what happens come the start of 2013 or even come the end of it.

It was about eradicating the memories of failure from the mind of some extremely talented players.

Players like Phil Dowson, Ben Foden and Lee Dickson, who have tasted so many heartbreaking late losses in the green, black and gold.

They, along with youngsters such as Mike Haywood and Calum Clark, have proved to themselves and everyone else that they can conquer the strongest of citadels.

So while one swallow doesn’t make a summer, the win has ensured there is unlikely to be a winter of discontent at Franklin’s Gardens.

And, who knows, the days, months and years beyond that might just be very bright for Mallinder’s men.

Player ratings


The full-back declared himself ‘embarrassed’ with his showing against Ulster eight days previously, but he made up for it here. So secure under the high ball again... 8


Played a big part in GJ van Velze’s crucial try and performed well on a night when every Saints player stood up to the Ulstermen... 7


Gave Ulster no room to breathe in the midfield and helped keep the intensity high in the face of the home side’s attacks... 7


This is a man who does not look 33 years old. Showed real vitality and verve and was almost rewarded with a second-half score... 8


Saved the day for Saints with a stunning tap tackle on Tommy Bowe, which unfortunately saw the Ireland winger injured. Elliott was superb throughout... 8


What a return to the team. He is the big-game fly-half and showed just why so many other Saints 10s have found it tough to get past him... 8


So quick and sharp all night, keeping the team ticking over and ensuring the tempo of the play was high. Are you watching, Stuart Lancaster?... 8


The powerhouse prop was at his punishing best in the tackle and in the loose as he ensured Saints’ defence remained watertight... 7


Superb display from the 20-year-old. No sign of nerves from a player who is a real prospect. Made one brilliant break and was solid at the set piece... 8


Justified Jim Mallinder’s decision to start him ahead of Brian Mujati with a strong showing before being replaced by the Springbok tighthead... 7


This man just gets better and better. A monstrous display from the lock, who continually smashed holes in the Ulster defence... 9 (MAN OF THE MATCH)


Takes defeat harder than most and illustrated his determination to make up for the disappointment at Franklin’s Gardens eight days earlier with a fine show... 7


Loves being the underdog and barked loud on the Ravenhill turf, driving his team to victory in the same way he did with England against New Zealand a couple of weeks ago... 7


Captain fantastic! A true professional on and off the pitch, who deserved this victory as he shepherded his side superbly in the absence of regular skipper Dylan Hartley... 8


It was all going so well for the South African, who is starting to look the part, but the ecstasy of his first Saints try was to be followed by the agony of injury... 7

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)


Got plenty of game time after van Velze was forced off midway through the first half and didn’t disappoint. This man loves a physical battle and he impressed... 7


What an influence ‘Mooj’ had. Kept fresh on the bench before coming on for Paul Doran-Jones to devastating effect. Crushed Ulster in the scrum... 8