Northampton face tough challenge against former European champions

Northampton play hosts to Ulster in the last eight of the Challenge Cup Credit: ITV Anglia
  • Watch Donovan Blake's preview of Northampton Saints' European Challenge Cup Quarter-Final

They're no strangers to meeting in Europe. But Northampton Saints and Ulster will lock horns for the first time in rugby's Challenge Cup.

Saints and Ulster also meet for the first time in 10 years, when they faced each other in the Quarter Finals of the Champions Cup at Milton Keynes.

But Ulster's crushing victory over Harlequins in the last 16 of this year's Challenge Cup competition serves notice to the Saints.

The fact that Northampton have the opportunity was thanks to their incredible comeback win in Wales last weekend.

Down to thirteen men at one stage, and trailing by ten points late in the game, the Saints scraped through 43-39 against Newport-Gwent Dragons

Northampton Saints players celebrate their last gasp victory over Newport-Gwent Dragons in the last 16 of the European Challenge Cup Credit: PA

Knock-out rugby. You don't get an other chance next weekend so credit to the guys. It was an amazing fightback. It could've been very easy to wave the white flag and give up on the game. They kept fighting, found a way back into it. Fantastic from that point of view, but we can't get to that position in the first point and that can't happen this weekend.

Dave Ribbans, Northampton Saints

Director of Rugby Chris Boyd says they really have to up their game if they're to progress past the Ulstermen who are the favourites to win the competition outright. 

Dan Biggar, Lewis Ludlam, Nick Isiekwe and David Ribbans are among nine changes to Northampton Saints’ starting line-up.Alex Waller leads the side alongside co-captain Ludlam from loosehead prop, with Sam Matavesi and Paul Hill selected alongside him in a new-look front row.

Alex Mitchell retains the No.9 shirt and is joined in the half-back berths by Biggar, who shakes off an abdominal injury to start at fly-half for the first time since returning from international duty.

Ollie Sleightholme and Taqele Naiyaravoro continue on Saints’ wings and Rory Hutchinson shifts to outside centre to make room for the returning Piers Francis in the hosts’ midfield, with Tommy Freeman meanwhile rounding off the side at fullback.

NORTHAMPTON SAINTS vs ULSTER RUGBYEuropean Challenge Cup, Quarter-FinalSaturday 10 April 2021Franklin’s GardensKick-off: 8pm

15 Tommy Freeman14 Ollie Sleightholme13 Rory Hutchinson12 Piers Francis11 Taqele Naiyaravoro10 Dan Biggar9 Alex Mitchell

1 Alex Waller (co-capt)2 Sam Matavesi3 Paul Hill4 David Ribbans5 Alex Coles6 Nick Isiekwe7 Lewis Ludlam (co-capt)8 Teimana Harrison

Replacements:16 Mike Haywood17 Nick Auterac18 Ehren Painter19 Alex Moon20 Tom Wood21 Tom James22 Ahsee Tuala23 Fraser Dingwall