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Preview: Northampton v Ulster

06th December 2012 12:41

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Ruan Pienaar and Ken Pisi split

Back for Ulster: Ruan Pienaar

Ulster take their 12-game unbeaten run on the road as they face Northampton Saints in Friday's vital Heineken Cup Pool 4 clash at Franklin's Gardens.

The current RaboDirect PRO12 leaders have already rattled off impressive victories over Castres and Glasgow thus far in the Pool.

For their part the Saints will be looking to bounce back from their 21-16 away defeat to Castres in their last Pool game after their hard-fought victory over the Scots at home in their tournament opener.

Ulster coach Mark Anscombe has named a strong starting XV with a number of players who were rested for the trip to Scarlets on Sunday returning to the fold, so the team has eight personnel changes and one positional switch.

Ruan Pienaar, Paddy Wallace and Jared Payne have been included at scrum-half, inside centre and full-back respectively.

Tommy Bowe, who was on bench duty last weekend, will line out on the right wing for his 50th Heineken Cup appearance. That means Andrew Trimble switches to the left at the expense of new Ireland cap Craig Gilroy.

Up front, Ireland internationals Rory Best and Tom Court replace Rob Herring and Callum Black in the front-row alongside John Afoa, while captain Johann Muller is joined in the second row by regular partner Dan Tuohy.

Ricky Lutton could make his Heineken Cup debut if he takes to the field at any time during Friday's game. The 26-year-old development prop has made one previous appearance - as a substitute in the PRO12 win over Edinburgh last month.

"They have a strong pack and they build their game around that," said Anscombe of Saints.

"They don't hide from that fact and they're confident in it. Their set piece is very strong and we've got to be excited about meeting that front on. We've got to conquer them up front if we're going to compete because you've got to have front foot ball. The tight five have to step up and show their qualities, but I'm confident in them, they've all played international rugby."

Having played each other in the Pool stages in 2002/03 and again in the quarter final of the 2010/11 edition, this will be the fourth European encounter between the two sides. All three previous meetings have been won by the team playing at home.

Both teams are showing good domestic form. Northampton currently occupy third spot in the Premiership standings, just two behind front-runners Harlequins, while Ulster have a nine point cushion at the top of the PRO12. With two wins from two in Europe, Ulster also have a three-point gap between themselves and their English opponents.

"Ulster have a strong winning habit this season and are coming to Franklin's Gardens in the best possible form," said director of rugby Jim Mallinder.

"Their squad is full of talented players who time and again this season have shown a never-say-die attitude and the ability to get the scores when they need them.

"It is going to be a massive challenge for us, we know that. But training has been very positive this week and we are coming into the game on the back of three successive wins ourselves.

"However all of the players know that they will have to take a step up from those performances and play for the full 80 minutes if we are to get the result we want."

Ulster have played 52 matches away from home in the Heineken Cup, winning only 12. In contrast, they come up against a side with a record of 29 wins and only 7 losses on home soil. A 13th away success would not only secure a 50th overall tournament victory, but it would also put the Ulstermen in the driving seat for qualification to the knock out stages.

Northampton fare worse against teams from Ireland than any other nation in this tournament. They have lost 8 of 12 matches against Irish outfits.

Northampton have conceded turnovers on 38 occasions this season, more than any other team in the Heineken Cup.

Saints' Ken Pisi is the leading metre maker in the tournament so far, carrying the ball for 272 metres in his two appearances.

Rugby Union betting odds

The teams:

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.

Date: Friday, December 7
Venue: Franklin's Gardens
Kick-off: 20.00 GMT
Referee: Jerome Garces (France)

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