Ulster v Northampton Saints: Tom Vickers' big match preview

Fixture: Ulster v Northampton Saints

By Tom Vickers
Thursday, 16th December 2021, 12:36 pm
Ken Pisi and Saints took on Ulster in December 2012
Ken Pisi and Saints took on Ulster in December 2012

Competition: Champions Cup (pool stages)

Venue: Kingspan Stadium, Belfast

Date and kick-off time: Friday, December 17, 2021, 8pm

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Weather forecast: 7c, mostly cloudy

Live television coverage: BT Sport 2

Referee: Andrea Piardi

Ulster: Lowry; Gilroy, Hume, McCloskey, McIlroy; Burns, Cooney; Warwick, Herring, M Moore; O'Connor, Henderson (c); Rea, Timoney, Vermeulen.

Replacements: Andrew, McGrath, O'Toole, Treadwell, Carter, Jones, Doak, S Moore.

Saints: Tuala; Sleightholme, Proctor, Dingwall, Skosan; Furbank, Mitchell; Waller, Haywood, Painter; Ribbans, Ratuniyarawa; Lawes, Ludlam (c), Wood.

Replacements: Fish, Iyogun, Carey, Coles, Augustus, James, Grayson, Hutchinson.

Not considered for Saints selection: Dan Biggar, Callum Burns, Tommy Freeman, Teimana Harrison, Oisin Heffernan, Paul Hill, Dani Long-Martinez, Alex Moon, Taqele Naiyaravoro, Kayde Sylvester.

Most recent meeting: Saturday, April 10, 2021: Saints 27 Ulster 35 (Challenge Cup quarter-final)

Tom's preview: Just as many of them did nine years ago, Saints fans will travel to Belfast on Friday night in hope rather than expectation.

And they will hope that their team can reproduce one of their club's most memorable European performances as they look to keep the Champions Cup flame burning into the new year.

Back in 2012, Jim Mallinder's men, humbled by Ulster at home on the previous weekend, rocked up in Belfast and recorded a sensational 10-9 success.

It was built on incredible character, and when the key moments came, Saints delivered.

There was GJ van Velze's try and Jamie Elliott's try-saving tap-tackle on Tommy Bowe.

And in the end, it was Saints voices that were heard when the final whistle blew.

How sweet it will be for those of a black, green and gold persuasion to dream of a repeat this week.

In truth, the task looks sizeable once more and the likelihood that lightning will strike twice seems slim.

After all, this is an Ulster side who will be buoyed by a fantastic away win against Clermont Auvergne last weekend.

And a Saints team who were defeated 45-14 by Racing 92 last time out.

Things can, of course, change quickly in professional sport.

And Saints will very much hope that a week proves to be a long time in rugby.

But if they are to get anywhere close to winning this week, they are going to have to show far more resilience than they did against Racing.

Watching the video of how Saints turned the tables on Ulster nine years ago wouldn't have been a bad shout this week.

Because although this is a completely fresh Saints team, with a few of the men who played in 2012 present, you can still influence the future with the past.

What the men from Northampton who travelled to Belfast in 2012 showed is that, even with your back against the wall, you can come out fighting.

And that is exactly what this group have to do on Friday night.

Tom's prediction: It would be great to think Saints could repeat the heroics of 2012 in Belfast, but this is a big ask and the home side might just have too much in front of their home crowd. Ulster 32 Saints 21.