ULSTER maintained their perfect season as they beat Northampton Saints in the Heineken Cup at Franklin’s Gardens.
Tries from Andrew Trimble and Tommy Bowe helped the visitors to a 13-6 half-time lead, with Saints’ points coming from two Ryan Lamb penalties.
Further second-half scores from Jared Payne and Dan Tuohy secured a bonus-point victory for Ulster.
Ulster, who have won all 13 of their Pro 12 and Heineken Cup games in 2012-13, are six points clear in Pool Four.
Pool 4 table
This clash was a meeting of the last two losing Heineken Cup finalists as Ulster, beaten by Leinster in last season’s final, met 2010-11 runners-up Northampton.
Ulster winger Craig Gilroy, who had scored a try on his Ireland debut against Argentina two weeks ago, was left on the bench as the visitors showed their squad strength.
Saints had an opportunity to take an early lead but Lamb missed a penalty before being involved again when his kick was charged down by Ruan Pienaar, although the covering Ben Foden denied Ulster.
However, the visitors were soon ahead when Gilroy’s replacement, Trimble, scored his 20th try in the Heineken Cup as he raced ahead of Foden to touch down following Paddy Jackson’s kick over the top.
Jackson missed the conversion attempt before Lamb and Jackson again missed further penalties in the blustery conditions.
Lamb, at the third attempt, finally got Northampton’s first points to reduce the deficit to two but Ulster restored their five-point lead two minutes later thanks to Jackson’s penalty.
Ulster, top of the Pro 12 with 10 league wins out of 10, scored their second try six minutes before the break after Payne’s precise kick into touch led to a sustained spell of pressure.
Pienaar and Iain Henderson were both blocked short of the line, but a quick passing move to the other side of the pitch, involving Darren Cave and Paddy Wallace, led to the overlapping Bowe diving over in the corner.
Previous Heineken Cup meetings
2010-11: Northampton 23-13 Ulster (quarter-finals)
2002-03: Northampton 32-9 Ulster (pool match)
2002-03: Ulster 16-13 Northampton (pool match)
Lamb’s late penalty left Saints 13-6 behind at half-time but his side would have held the lead if he had been successful with his other three attempts.
Ulster stretched their advantage within five minutes of the restart when full-back Payne collected a pass from Trimble, fooled Foden with a dummy and sprinted through a gap in the home defence.
Saints pushed to get back in the match but Pienaar held up Jamie Elliott before replacement Tom May fumbled the ball five yards from the line.
Ulster, who ended the match with 14-men after Henderson was sin-binned with nine minutes left for not releasing a player on the ground, snatched the bonus point in the last minute when Payne released Tuohy, who dived over.
The two sides play again on Saturday, 15 December at Ravenhill in a match Northampton must win to keep alive their Heineken Cup hopes.
Northampton: B Foden; K Pisi, G Pisi, D Waldouck, J Elliott; R Lamb, M Roberts; S Tonga’uiha, D Hartley (capt), B Mujati; S Manoa, C Lawes; C Clark, T Wood, GJ Van Velze.
Replacements: M Haywood (for Hartley 71), A Waller (for Tonga’uiha 63), P Doran-Jones (for Mujati 60), P Dowson (for Clark 57), L Dickson (for Roberts 51), S Myler (for Lamb 60), T May (for Waldouck 66).
Ulster: J Payne; T Bowe, D Cave, P Wallace, A Trimble; P Jackson, R Pienaar; T Court, R Best, J Afoa, J Muller (capt), D Tuohy, I Henderson, C Henry, R Wilson.
Replacements: C Black (for Court 69), R Diack (for Wilson 79), N Williams (for Muller 50),L Marshall (for Wallace 69), C Gilroy (for Trimble 69).
Sin-binned: I Henderson 71.
Referee: Jerome Garces (France)