Ulster Rugby crashed out of the Heineken cup at the hands of Northampton with the Aviva Premiership outfit proving too strong for Brian McLaughlin’s men. The 23-13 score line flattered Northampton with Ulster making life very difficult at Milton Keynes Stadium.
As is generally the case at the highest level of club rugby a moment of pure skill proved to be the turning point in this encounter. With the scores tied at 13 a piece England Internationals Chris Ashton and Ben Foden exchanged passes to carve open the Ulster defence with the ball eventually making its way to Lee Dickson to cross over, Stephen Meyler adding the extra’s.
Up to that point Ulster had matched Northampton’s efforts although the 5,000 plus travelling support would have been forgiven for fearing the worse when Soane Tonga’uiha crossed over following a tap and go from Roger Wilson, Meyler conversion making it 7-0.
However Ulster, second in the Magner’s league, have shown they have strong mettle this season and they reduced the arrears to 4 through a Ian Humphrey’s penalty 5 minutes later, a second penalty on 14 minutes reduced the deficit further and suddenly Ulster were right back in this tie.
Northampton were now feeling the pressure and perhaps might have wished they were in the comfort of their Franklin garden’s home rather than in the larger Stadium MK, the game being moved to the home of the Milton Keynes Dons to meet ERC capacity requirements.
Ulster stunned the home support when they took the lead on 33 minutes, Ireland winger Andrew Trimble crossing following good work from Danielli off the line out. Sadly that was to be end of the Irish provinces scoring and any hope that Ulster would head in to the break with a six point lead evaporated when Meyler converted a penalty after Ulster brought down the scrum.
Eight minutes into the second half and the sides were level, Ulster being punished for not letting go of the tackled player, Meyler kicking his second penalty of the day.
Six minutes later and the games decisive moment arrived and Northampton now had the wind in their sails although that said Ulster might have set a stronger finish had Adam D’Arcy showed better composure with the line at this mercy however it was not be and another penalty from Meyler sealed a 10 point win
Both sides have tasted Heineken cup glory before with Ulster winners in 1999 and Northampton claiming the trophy a year later but for now the chance of further glory lies with Northampton who now face a home semi final against Perpignan on May 1st in the Stadium: MK in Milton Keynes.
While for Ulster, the learned lessons at this level can prove painful however McLaughlin’s side is still developing and will no doubt benefit from the experience to come back stronger.