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Northampton v Ulster: Heineken Cup match preview
Ulster are preparing to take their 12-game unbeaten run on the road as they face Northampton Saints in Friday's crucial Heineken Cup Pool 4 clash at Franklin's Gardens.
With the current RaboDirect PRO12 leaders having already secured impressive victories over Castres and Glasgow thus far in the Pool, they will be looking to extend their great run of form.
Meanwhile, the Saints will aiming 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 solid starting XV with a number of players who were rested for the trip to Scarlets on Sunday returning to the side.
Ruan Pienaar, Paddy Wallace and Jared Payne have been named at scrum-half, inside centre and full-back respectively.
Tommy Bowe, will line up on the right wing for his 50th Heineken Cup appearance, after having been on bench duty last weekend. This will see Andrew Trimble switch 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. Captain Johann Muller is joined in the second row by Dan Tuohy, his regular partner.
If he takes to the field at any time during Friday's game, Ricky Lutton could make his Heineken Cup debut. The 26-year-old development prop has made one previous appearance - last month as a substitute in the PRO12 win over Edinburgh.
Both sides are currently showing consistent domestic form, with Northampton sitting in third spot in the Premiership standings, whilst Ulster have a nine point cushion at the top of the PRO12.
However, Northampton fare worse against teams from Ireland than any other nation in this tournament, having lost 8 of 12 matches against Irish sides.
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.
What they said...
Ulster coach Mark Anscombe:
"They have a strong pack and they build their game around that.
"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."
Northampton Director of rugby Jim Mallinder:
"Ulster have a strong winning habit this season and are coming to Franklin's Gardens in the best possible form.
"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."
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|European Rugby Champions Cup|
|Sunday 25th January|
|European Rugby Champions Cup|
|Munster 65 - 10 Sale Sharks|
|Clermont Auvergne 18 - 6 Saracens|
|Bath 20 - 15 Glasgow|
|Montpellier 27 - 26 Toulouse|
|Saturday 24th January|
|Scarlets 3 - 26 Toulon|
|Ulster 26 - 7 Leicester|
|Northampton 8 - 32 Racing Metro 92|
|Benetton Treviso 23 - 20 Ospreys|
|Castres 19 - 47 Harlequins|
|Wasps 20 - 20 Leinster|
|Sunday 18th January|
|Ospreys 9 - 20 Northampton|
|Racing Metro 92 53 - 7 Benetton Treviso|
|Toulouse 18 - 35 Bath|
|Glasgow 21 - 10 Montpellier|
|Saturday 17th January|
|Harlequins 3 - 23 Wasps|
|Sale Sharks 13 - 22 Clermont Auvergne|
|Leinster 50 - 8 Castres|
|Toulon 60 - 22 Ulster|
|Saracens 33 - 10 Munster|
|Friday 16th January|
|Leicester 40 - 23 Scarlets|
|Sunday 14th December|
|Scarlets 22 - 13 Ulster|
|Clermont Auvergne 26 - 19 Munster|
|Wasps 44 - 17 Castres|
Read the thoughts and opinions of Phil Edwards with skysports.com