Saints out to preserve unbeaten record
April 8, 2011
Can Saints skipper Dylan Hartley lead his side into the Heineken Cup semi-finals? © Getty Images
Northampton tackle Ulster in the Heineken Cup quarter-finals at Stadium MK in Milton Keynes on Sunday.
The Saints resume their challenge for European club rugby's top prize having powered through the pool stages unbeaten with an away victory against Castres sealing their No.1 seeding. Ulster's progress was almost as impressive with a solitary defeat to eventual Pool 4 winners the only blemish on their record.
Both sides have previously lifted the trophy - Ulster in 1999 and Northampton in 2000 - and victory in Sunday's showdown will boost their chances of a repeat with home advantage in the final four awaiting the winner of the tie.
These two former champions are also pushing for domestic glory with Northampton currently fourth in the Aviva Premiership table having won their last three encounters. Ulster are also riding a fine run of form with six straight league victories propelling them to second place in the Magners League.
Northampton - Player to watch: Former Ulster No.8 Roger Wilson will pack down for the Saints and will no doubt be determined to prove he made the right move.
Northampton - Team news: Phil Dowson returns to the blindside flanker berth in the only change to the side that swept Sale aside in their last outing. Stephen Myler retains the playmaking duties at No.10 while Calum Clark joins the replacements to fill the void left by Dowson.
Ulster - Player to watch: Craig Gilroy, Ulster's top try-scorer in the Magners League with seven tries from nine appearances could make his Heineken Cup debut if he comes off the bench during the game, having been registered for the competition as an additional player.
Ulster - Team news: Chris Henry gets the nod at openside ahead of Willie Faloon in the only change to the team that accounted for the Scarlets in the Magners League last weekend. The only other change amongst the replacements is the inclusion of prop Bryan Young who comes in with Declan Fitzpatrick unavailable having picked up a wrist injury.
Key Battle: The powerful Saints front row triumvirate of Soane Tonga'uiha, Dylan Hartley and Brian Mujati have rediscovered their mojo of late but will not get everything their own way against Ulster's Tom Court, Rory Best and BJ Botha.
Trivia: The Saints are the only one of the quarter-finalists to take an unbeaten record through from the Pool stages.
Stats: Northampton flanker Tom Wood has made 67 tackles in this season's competition - missing just three.
"Getting good results in the Premiership is one thing, but the Heineken Cup is a massive step up in intensity and physicality, especially when you get to the knock-out stages." - Northampton boss Jim Mallinder
"Around the field we feel they [Northampton] can be a little bit predictable sometimes, but when you have a back three like they have and a quality midfield who can carry exceptionally well and a very strong line-out, there's no doubt they're a quality team." - Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin
Prediction: The Saints' mix of power and pace to see off a determined Ulster effort.
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