Northampton v Castres, Heineken Cup, October 8
Saints welcome under-strength Castres
October 7, 2010
Chris Ashton returns to the Northampton side © Getty Images
Northampton are 10 years down the road since winning Europe's top prize and begin their latest tilt for a repeat success against Top 14 battlers Castres in Pool 1 on Friday night.
The Saints will want maximum points from their first home game at Franklin's Gardens, especially given their likely battle for top spot with last season's Amlin Challenge Cup champions Cardiff Blues.
Castres predictably travel with a weakened squad compared to the 22s that regularly compete in the gritty confines of the French league, but still boast enough quality to keep Northampton honest in front of an expectant crowd.
Northampton - Player to Watch: After a couple of weeks out due to injury, Chris Ashton returns to the Saints' back-three. He's in form and scoring tries for fun; Castres will need to marshal his midfield runs carefully.
Northampton - Team News: Shane Geraghty is preferred to Stephen Myler at fly-half again and is joined in the starting line-up by skipper Dylan Hartley, lock Courtney Lawes, fullback Ben Foden and flanker Phil Dowson.
Castres - Player to Watch: Skipper Chris Masoe is fresh from being named in the Top 14 'dream team' for 2009-10 and the former All Black back-rower is a constant threat with ball in hand as well as a committed leader.
Castres - Team News: French international Sebastien Tillous-Borde is paired with Kiwi Cameron McIntyre at halfback. Regulars Seremaia Bai and Marc Andreu are named on the bench, with a weakened starting XV named.
Key Battle: McIntyre and Tillous Borde are a classy pairing and should the Castres pack gain parity with their powerful opponents, Geraghty and Lee Dickson will need to make sure their performance is squeaky clean.
Trivia: Northampton are currently on their best home run in the tournament and have not been beaten in their last eight European ties at Franklin's Gardens.
Stats: Ashton has played seven Heineken Cup games for the Saints and already sits third on their all-time try-scorers list for the tournament with six.
"They have beaten some big teams like Toulouse this season, and their coaches have put together a very strong outfit. They have some big ball carriers in the back row and a fast back line that likes to move the ball." - Northampton boss Jim Mallinder
Prediction: Saints don't often slip up at home and Castres have named a weakened side; a comfortable home win beckons.
© ESPN EMEA Ltd
"Wayne Barnes' decision to give Dylan Hartley his marching orders was brave but crucially it was the correct call." Graham Jenkins reports from the Premiership final
"We wanted to get the rugby spirit across to people, I firmly believe we have been in the thick of it." Tom Hamilton speaks to the ESPN crew on the final live broadcast
With the Lions' tour to Australia fast-approaching, ESPN's Austin Healey and Mark Durden-Smith sat down to share their memories of the 2001 trip Down Under
"The fans could not be happier with the opposition and it adds an exciting element to a game that is shaping up as a thriller." Ben Kay previews the Premiership final showdown