Ulster 29, Northampton Saints 19
Ulster’s marquee signing Charles Piutua thrilled home supporters at Kingspan Stadium last night with a breath taking display against English Premiership visitors Northampton Saints.
Piutua powered over for a first half try and then played a major role when turning provider for Louis Ludik and Jacob Stockdale either side of the break as Ulster won 29-19.
The New Zealander - who kept Ulster fans waiting over a year to make his home debut - showed why it was well worth the wait as he was named as the CD Group ‘Man of the Match.
Also impressing was the lesser known Hughes Ulster Academy player, Robert Lyttle. He backed up last week’s cameo role off the bench by scoring two tries in a quality 40 minutes display as well as showing his place kicking ability was top notch by landing two touchline conversions with ease.
Ulster had come into their final pre-season friendly on the back of two narrow losses away to Exeter Chiefs and Leinster and were keen to put down a marker ahead of next week’s Guinness PRO12 League opener at home against NG Dragons.
When Saints named an experienced side including several English internationals, there was a little concern Ulster may struggle, particularly at scrumhalf given they were facing a minor tighthead prop crisis.
Any worries were quickly allayed however and, after soaking up some early Saints pressure, Ulster’s domination of the first half was reflected in their 24-0 lead.
The home side raced into a 10-0 lead after 20 minutes - when prop Rodney Ah You was in the sin-bin - and Louis Ludik went over.
Lyttle converted and then added a penalty after Saints number eight Louis Picamoles was also sent to the bin.
Piutau delighted the home support when he forced his way over for a try on 24 minutes, Lyttle landing the touchline conversion.
Captain Rob Herring got in on the act from a line-out and driving maul as Lyttle sent the home side in 24-0 ahead at the break with the conversion.
Piutau’s brilliance brightened up a somewhat duller second half for Ulster, his hand-off and then off-load putting Stockdale away.
Saints scored three second half tries, converting two, to leave the scoreline more respectable - albeit somewhat flattering.
Ulster: C Piutau, J Stockdale, L Ludik, S McCloskey, R Lyttle; B Herron, P Marshall; A Warwick, R Herring, R Ah You, P Browne, F van der Merwe, R Diack, C Ross, R Wilson
Replacements: J Andrew, C Black, R Kane, A O’Connor, C Joyce, M Rea, D Shanahan, S Windsor, D Busby.
Northampton Saints: B Foden, K Pisi, L Burrell, H Mallinder, A Tuala, S Myler, L Dickson; A Waller, D Hartley, K Brookes, M Paterson, J Craig, T Wood, J Gibson, L Picamoles
Replacements: C Ma’afu, M Harwood, P Hill, C Lawes, J Onojaife, R Marshall, L Ludlam, S Dickinson, N Groom, JJ Hanrahan, H Packman, G Pisi, J P Estelles, T Collins, G Furbank.