Ulster extended their unbeaten run in all competitions to 13 thanks to a comprehensive 25-6 Heineken Cup victory over Northampton.
Ulster extended their unbeaten run in all competitions to 13 thanks to a comprehensive 25-6 Heineken Cup victory over Northampton at Franklin's Gardens.
In a battle between the competition's last two beaten finalists, Ulster crossed for two tries in each half to claim a maximum five-point haul on their travels.
Ulster, the 1999 champions and runners-up to Leinster last season, opened the scoring at Franklin's Gardens after 10 minutes through winger Andrew Trimble.
Paddy Jackson released his team-mate with a clever, delayed chip ahead which fell perfectly for Trimble to beat Northampton full-back Ben Foden to the ball and touch down.
Jackson missed the conversion before opposing fly-half Ryan Lamb fluffed his second penalty of the night.
Jackson then went wide with a penalty from just inside the Saints' half before Lamb finally found his length and direction with a long-range penalty to make the score 5-3 to the Irish side.
Ulster won a penalty straight from the restart for a line-out infringement and this time Jackson hit the target to put his team 8-3 to the good.
Lamb's poor night continued when he missed a third penalty just before the half-hour mark when veteran centre Paddy Wallace was punished for a dangerous tackle on Northampton winger Ken Pisi.
Ulster scored their second try in the 33rd minute through winger Tommy Bowe.
The move was created by Kiwi full-back Jared Payne's pinpoint kick ahead which rocked Northampton back on their heels. Ulster created the overlap with Wallace putting Bowe in space for his try as the visitors went 13-3 ahead although Jackson again missed the conversion.
Lamb at least kept the Saints in touch with a 20m penalty as Ulster went in at half-time with a 13-6 lead.
That advantage quickly became 18-6 early in the second period when Payne grabbed Ulster's third try, collecting Trimble's pass before nipping inside the Northampton defence with a smart dummy to score.
Jackson added the extras for 20-6 but then went short with an optimistic long-range penalty shot.
Northampton piled on the pressure in the closing stages but were unable to breach a resolute Ulster defence with the visitors even surviving having flanker Ian Henderson sin-binned for not releasing a tackled player on the ground.
Lock Dan Tuohy added the bonus-point try in the last minute for 25-6 with Jackson's conversion out wide missing the target.
Pens: Lamb 2
Tries: Trimble, Bowe, Payne, Tuohy,
Yellow card: Iain Henderson (71 mins)
Northampton Saints: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Ken Pisi, 13 George Pisi, 12 Dom Waldouck, 11 Jamie Elliott, 10 Ryan Lamb, 9 Martin Roberts, 8 Gerrit-Jan van Velze, 7 Tom Wood, 6 Calum Clark, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Samu Manoa, 3 Brian Mujati, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Soane Tonga'uiha.
Replacements: 16 Mikey Haywood, 17 Alex Waller, 18 Paul Doran-Jones, 19 Mark Sorenson, 20 Phil Dowson, 21 Lee Dickson, 22 Steve Myler, 23 Tom May.
Ulster: 15 Jared Payne, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Darren Cave, 12 Paddy Wallace, 11 Andrew Trimble, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Roger Wilson , 7 Chris Henry, 6 Iain Henderson, 5 Dan Tuohy, 4 Johann Muller (c), 3 John Afoa, 2 Rory Best, 1 Tom Court.
Replacements: 16 Nigel Brady, 17 Callum Black, 18 Ricky Lutton, 19 Robbie Diack, 20 Nick Wiliams, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Luke Marshall, 23 Craig Gilroy.
Referee: Jerome Garces (France)