Ulster made it two from two in the Heineken Champions Cup after claiming a bonus-point win over Northampton Saints at Kingspan Stadium on Friday evening.
The Ulster men made an immediate impression, with Ethan McIlroy and Michael Lowry probing the Northampton defences. The clock hadn’t hit two minutes before a series of deft Ulster offloads sent Rob Herring burrowing under the posts to get on the scoresheet. John Cooney got the conversion to put the hosts 7-up.
The English side were quick to respond however, when Ulster were penalised for not rolling away in the tackle, and George Furbank slotted the penalty to reduce the gap.
Ulster were looking good for another try as Northampton were penalised for collapsing the maul – John Cooney looked to get the pass out to Craig Gilroy but Alex Mitchell put a hand in to knock the ball on. Referee Andrea Piardi awarded a penalty try to Ulster and Mitchell was sent to the bin.
Furbank had another penalty opportunity when Ulster were pinged for not releasing in the tackle, and made no mistake with the kick. Stuart McCloskey pulled up and had to make an early exit for Stewart Moore.
The men in red roared back when James Hume made the chip to set Ethan McIlroy off on a scorching run and bag their third try of the night with twenty minutes gone.
George Furbank notched up another three points just two minutes later, keeping the Saints within touching distance. A few minutes later again, Ulster were caught off their feet and Furbank cut the lead to seven points before the break.
The hosts were first to register on the board in the second half, when Fraser Dingwall was penalised for not releasing the ball. John Cooney fired over the three points to bring their lead back up to ten points.
On 57 minutes, Ulster claimed the bonus-point through Billy Burns making the cross-field kick to the awaiting Craig Gilroy. Ahsee Tuala was unable to catch in defence, and Gilroy pounced on the ball in the right-hand corner.
The Saints side continued to chip away at the score board. Alex Mitchell was able to jink his way through to score their first try on 60 minutes. Furbank was unable to land the conversion.
Ulster tried to test the much-improved Northampton defence but struggled to get any change out wide or in the tighter exchanges. The visitors snatched a last-minute try through Courtnall Skosan in the corner, but Ulster had done enough to claim the bonus-point win by the final whistle.
Full-time score: Ulster 27 Northampton Saints 22
Rob Herring, Penalty try, Ethan McIlroy, Craig Gilroy
Alex Mitchell, Courtnall Skosan
George Furbank (4)
(15-9) Mike Lowry, Craig Gilroy, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Ethan McIlroy, Billy Burns, John Cooney;
(1-8) Andrew Warwick, Rob Herring, Marty Moore, Alan O’Connor, Iain Henderson (Capt.), Marcus Rea, Nick Timoney, Duane Vermeulen.
Replacements: John Andrew, Jack McGrath, Tom O'Toole, Kieran Treadwell, Sam Carter, Greg Jones, Nathan Doak, Stewart Moore.
(15-9) Ahsee Tuala, Ollie Sleightholme, Matt Proctor, Fraser Dingwall, Courtnall Skosan, George Furbank, Alex Mitchell;
(1-8) Alex Waller, Mike Haywood, Ehren Painter, David Ribbans, Api Ratuniyarawa, Courtney Lawes, Lewis Ludlam (Capt.), Tom Wood.
Replacements: James Fish, Emmanuel Iyogun, Conor Carey, Alex Coles, Juarno Augustus, Tom James, James Grayson, Rory Hutchinson.
Ulster now turn their sights back to the United Rugby Championship, and back-to-back Inter-Pros against Connacht on Boxing Day and Leinster on New Year’s Day at Kingspan Stadium.