Northampton 23-13 Ulster, Heineken Cup Quarter-Final, April 9
Mallinder heaps praise on victorious Saints
April 10, 2011
Northampton scrum-half Lee Dickson crashes over to score, Northampton v Ulster, Heineken Cup Quarter-Final, stadium:mk, Milton Keynes, England, April 10, 2011
Northampton scrum-half Lee Dickson crashes over to score © Getty Images

Northampton boss Jim Mallinder has backed his side to kick on from their 23-13 Heineken Cup quarter-final victory over Ulster in Milton Keynes.

Saints booked their passage into the semi-finals of Europe's premier club rugby competition for the third time with a battling display at stadium:mk to set up a semi-final date with Perpignan in three weeks' time. The win swept them one stage further than last season when their lack of big-game experience was exposed by Munster at Thomond Park.

"It can only help the more the team plays in these occasions, the more these lads play international rugby," said Mallinder, the club's director of rugby. "We're a young side and we don't have any players who have played in the semi-finals of the Heineken Cup. "We're inexperienced in those terms but we're learning all the time."

Saints trailed 13-10 at half-time but scored the game-turning try in the 56th minute through scrum-half Lee Dickson. It may have been Dickson who crossed, but the try was created by the vision of England pair Chris Ashton and Ben Foden who swapped passes down the touchline to clear a path to the whitewash.

"In a good team you need a powerful set of forwards and some class finishers out wide," said Mallinder. "We're fortunate that we have both of those. In Ashton, Foden and Paul Diggin we have good finishers. Give them half a chance and they'll always be dangerous.

"We got stronger and stronger as the match went on. To see your pack scrummage like that after 70 minutes and for your defence to be hitting breakdowns in numbers and getting turnovers is a credit to the lads."

Dylan Hartley was heard complaining to referee Romain Poite in the second half that he had been bitten, but the Northampton hooker refused to elaborate on the incident. "I can't remember - I think I got sun stroke," said the England hooker.

When he was told he was overheard via the TV microphone worn by Poite, he responded: "Really? That will teach me for trying to pull people out of rucks by the head."

Prop Soane Tonga'uiha crossed after only two minutes as Saints made an ominous start, but it was not until the final quarter that the 2000 champions were able to stamp their authority on the match.

"Week to week we go out to work hard knowing the rewards will come later in the game," said Hartley. "At half-time we said keep the tempo up and keep working hard and good things will come - and they did.

"Ulster didn't crack. They were in it for 80 minutes but we took our chance well for Lee Dickson's try. Our set piece pulled us through."

Ireland winger Andrew Trimble scored a superb 33rd-minute try and while Ulster emerged from the contest with credit, coach Brian McLaughlin admitted the best team had won. "At half-time we felt like we were still in the game but they upped their intensity a bit," he said. "Out set piece wasn't on the money and they made us pay heavily for that.

"But you can't fault the effort the lads put in. The way they went about their job was exceptional. It's a position we haven't been in for an awful long time and we learnt a lot from it.

"Northampton were deserving winners. They're very good at what they do. Their set piece is excellent and have some quality players. That told on the day. They certainly have the firepower to do exceptionally well in the competition."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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