Ulster 27 Northampton Saints 22: Tom Vickers' review and player ratings

Chris Boyd recently labelled Saints' win against Bath 'a box of chocolates'.

By Tom Vickers
Saturday, 18th December 2021, 1:30 pm
Updated Saturday, 18th December 2021, 1:32 pm
Saints were beaten in Belfast on Friday night
Saints were beaten in Belfast on Friday night

And in Belfast on Friday night, that analogy rang true once again.

Because, as Boyd said after the Bath victory, Saints swung between the good and the bad as they slipped to their second defeat in as many Champions Cup matches this season.

The black, green and gold were undone by a series of costly errors from individuals, especially during the opening 20 minutes when they shipped three tries.

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Alex Mitchell's sin-binning appeared to be a dagger to the heart as the hosts were awarded a penalty try and then exposed 14-man Saints to move into a 19-6 lead.

But Mitchell made amends in the second half, grabbing a try in intelligent fashion and then playing a huge part in a late score for Courtnall Skosan.

Having conceded three tries in the first quarter, Saints won the 60-minute period that followed 16-8.

They found some defensive solidity and had it not been for a moment to forget for Ahsee Tuala, who dropped a high ball into the path of Craig Gilroy, it may have been even closer.

The problem Saints have had during defeats this season is that they are far from consistent enough for a full 80 minutes.

Against good sides, you get punished if you give them even a glimpse of an opening.

And this was history repeating itself.

The first 20 minutes gave Saints a mountain to climb.

And though they kept chipping away, refusing to bow to Ulster pressure, they never really looked like winning this match.

There was plenty of praise due for the character and the resilience shown after such a sluggish start.

But the fact that they had so much work to do to catch up owed to the fact they didn't get out of the blocks from the start.

Much of the talk has been about making teams work harder for tries against Saints.

But Ulster didn't have to produce any magic, especially for the first, second and fourth efforts.

The third came from some impressive creativity from James Hume, but even that score would have been unlikely had Mitchell been on the field.

So Saints know the holes they need to plug in their boat before they return to Premiership action.

But they have known for much of the season and still they are struggling to do it.

That being said, the fight they showed during the final 60 minutes of this match has to be something to build on.

Saints will need that same desire by the bucketload if they are to hold on to and push on from their current third-place standing in the Premiership.

And the tough tests keep coming with games against Harlequins, Saracens and Newcastle Falcons on the agenda before Europe rolls back around again.

Whether those fixtures can be played as scheduled remains to be seen as Covid-19 has started to wreak havoc in sport once again.

But, as it stands, Saints will be heading to Twickenham for Big Game 13 on December 27.

And what a big game that seems to be, with Saints desperate to show they can stay in the hunt in domestic action.

Dreams of Champions Cup glory have faded quickly after matches against sides who will fancy themselves to go all the way this season.

And the same must not be allowed to occur in the Premiership.

How they rated...

AHSEE TUALA

Made his first appearance since the opening day of the season and it was a big ask in a game of such magnitude. Made a key mistake in the second half and couldn't stop Rob Herring scoring in the first on what was a tough night overall... 4.5

OLLIE SLEIGHTHOLME

Really looked to carry the fight to Ulster when he got the chance and did everything he could to stop them scoring their third try... 6

MATT PROCTOR

Made more metres than any other Saints player, also beating five defenders as he desperately tried to get his team on the front foot... 6.5

FRASER DINGWALL

Another big showing from the Saints centre, who was in the top five performers for his team in terms of carries, metres carried, offloads, turnovers won, tackles and defenders beaten... 7

COURTNALL SKOSAN

Scored yet again with a very good finish late on but it had been a difficult night for the South African wing up to that point... 5.5

GEORGE FURBANK

Kept Saints in the game with his kicking from the tee in the first half, won a turnover and then played a part in Skosan's score... 6.5

ALEX MITCHELL

An eventful evening for the scrum-half, who was sin-binned in the first half and then returned to score one and set up another during a sparky second-half showing... 6.5

ALEX WALLER

Found himself on the wrong side of the referee on one occasion but smiled through it and provided plenty of fight... 6

MIKE HAYWOOD

A steady enough showing from the hooker, whose presence and experience will be important on the return to Premiership action... 6

EHREN PAINTER

Held his own at scrum time and he didn't shy away from getting hold of the ball as he did what he could to get stuck into Ulster... 6

DAVID RIBBANS

The ball slipped from his grasp on a couple of occasions but he refused to be deterred, carrying hard time and time again... 6.5

API RATUNIYARAWA

Tried to get his hands on the ball as much as possible and also did what he could to disrupt Ulster... 6

COURTNEY LAWES

He had been battling Covid-19 before emerging from isolation earlier in the week and you would never have known it as he delivered yet another big display for his side... 7

LEWIS LUDLAM

Has been in fantastic form and this was no exception as he flew around the field, trying to make things happen for his team while also making a huge amount of tackles... 7

TOM WOOD

Fought as hard as ever, showing a real appetite to gain ground for Saints as they sought to push Ulster back... 6

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

MANNY IYOGUN (for Waller 52)

Another valuable experience from the talented youngster and he didn't do much wrong here... 6

JAMES FISH (for Haywood 52)

A tough task as he needed to help Saints keep their set piece steady and he largely did that, aside from one lineout loss that proved costly... 5.5

CONOR CAREY (for Painter 52)

Helped Saints to remain sturdy in the closing stages of the game and played a part in something of a revival... 6

JUARNO AUGUSTUS (for Wood 56)

Tried to use his power to blast holes in a solid Ulster defence, but the hosts got enough players around him to stop him having a real say... 6

CHRON STAR MAN - Nick Timoney (Ulster)