Ulster full-back Mike Lowry scored two tries to help secure a 24-20 win over Northampton Saints at Franklin’s Gardens and clinch a spot in the last-16 of the Heineken Champions Cup.
Robert Baloucoune and Nathan Doak also touched down for scores as Dan McFarland’s men sealed a bonus point win to make it three wins from three in the group stages of the competition.
Man of the match Lowry said: “We put a lot of effort in through the week and said before that if we win this game we’re in.
“We knew it would be a seriously tough game coming over here. It’s a fast track and the Saints play a lovely brand of rugby.
“At a few stages I was seriously blowing and we’ll be disappointed with a few things, but it’s great to get the win.”
Dan Biggar and Rory Hutchinson scored Northampton’s tries, the latter coming in the final minute.
Ulster were 12-0 ahead after only 14 minutes when Baloucoune bagged his fourth try in seven European appearances early doors and Doak crossed for a second soon after.
It was an eye-catching score for Doak who capitalised on some enterprising play from Lowry and Baloucoune before going on to convert his own try.
Saints needed a response and they got one when lock Brandon Nansen burst through a tackle from Marty Moore to start a flowing move which ended with Ulster conceding a penalty. Biggar duly split the posts.
Saints reduce the arrears further with an excellent try, Hutchinson and Collins combining to send Biggar over.
But a minute before the interval, the visitors scored a crucial try to make it 19-10 at the break.
Billy Burns chipped over the top for Lowry to seize the loose ball and score. The TMO was called into action to consider a suspicion of an earlier knock-on, but the try was awarded, which Doak converted.
After the restart Biggar kicked a penalty, but Saints’ hopes dwindled when scrum-half Alex Mitchell was sin-binned for a deliberate offside after Lowry had threatened the home line with an explosive burst.
Biggar’s penalty was the only score of an evenly-contested third quarter, but it felt that Ulster had an extra gear and so it proved when Baloucoune’s pass sent Ethan Mcllroy away, with the wing’s inside pass giving man of the match Lowry a deserved second.
Mitchell returned from the sin bin, but Saints withdrew both Lawes and Biggar before Hutchinson scored an excellent solo effort at the death.