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Heineken Cup: Ulster in complete control of Pool 4 after away win over Northampton
Unbeaten Ulster put themselves firmly on course to qualify from Pool 4 in the Heineken Cup with a 25-6 victory over Northampton at Franklin's Gardens.
The RaboDirect PRO12 team made it a lucky 13 successive wins this season in the battle of the competition's last two beaten finalists, scoring two tries in each half to claim a maximum five-point haul on their travels.
Northampton's cause was not helped by Ryan Lamb enduring an off night with the boot, though in truth they were comfortably second best; the defeat leaves them in desperate need of a win in the return fixture at Ravenhill next time out if they are to remain in the qualification race.
The Saints saw nine points go begging in the opening half due to their fly-half being unable to locate the posts, Lamb twice pushing efforts to the right before another attempt from wide on the left failed to get over.
The former Gloucester player did hit the target 20 minutes in to get the hosts on the board, while a further three points with the final kick of the half cut the gap between the sides to seven.
However, the scoreline did not do justice to Ulster's dominance. Rock solid in defence, they twice launched attacking raids that yielded tries and had Paddy Jackson's radar been working, they would have been out of sight by the break.
The number 10, who missed two penalties and both conversions, made his most telling kick came in open play, his chip over the top of the defensive line allowing Andrew Trimble to beat Ben Foden in the left corner to score the game's first try.
Fellow winger Tommy Bowe also crossed, the Ireland international marking his 50th Heineken Cup appearance by finishing off a move that had all stemmed from a superb kick deep into opposing territory from Jared Payne, as well as Saints' inability to seal the ensuing line-out.
Any thoughts of a Northampton fightback were then quashed inside five minutes of the re-start, Payne dummying his way inside opposite number Foden to reach the line.
Jackson added his first conversion of the night to open up a 14-point gap that always looked beyond a mis-firing Saints side that included the fit-again Foden, as well as returning England duo Courtney Lawes and Tom Wood.
The closest they came to crossing was when Jamie Elliott was held up over the line by Ruan Pienaar, with Ulster even keeping their opponents out despite the late sin-binning of flanker Iain Henderson.
Despite being down to 14 the visitors still added a further try, sealing a well-deserved bonus through lock Dan Tuohy in the right corner. The conversion was missed but it did not matter; Ulster had emphatically laid down a marker to the rest that they are determined to go one better than last year.