Saints suffer Castres defeat
October 19, 2012
Stephen Myler kicked 11 points for Northampton
© Getty Images
Northampton Saints suffered a 21-16 defeat at the hands of Castres in France on Friday night.
A George Pisi try was not enough for the Aviva Premiership leaders, as their French opposition edged to victory under the lights of the Stade Ernest Wallon.
After beating Glasgow Warriors 24-15 in the opening group match of their European campaign, Saints coach Jim Mallinder made only one change to the team that beat Glasgow Warriors on Sunday with Ryan Lamb coming in for the injured James Wilson. In contrast, Castres made 11 changes to their starting line up after their crushing 41-17 defeat to Ulster at Ravenhill.
It was the home side who made the better start to the game, and their early pressure finally told when Romain Martial collected a high ball and fed Paul Bonnefond who was on hand to take the ball over the line for the first try of the match.
Romain Teulet who has over 3000 points for Castres then converted to give the home side a 7-0 lead within the opening 10 minutes. Northampton needed to get a foothold in the game, but it was Castres who continued to dominate and play with typical French flair. Teulet took advantage of some undisciplined defending from Northampton and added three more points to Castres' score.
Almost straight from the restart after Teulet's kick, the Saints were then awarded a penalty and Stephen Myler gave them their first points of the match. Northampton sensed vulnerability in the French side's defence and Myler kicked another penalty in front of the posts before Castres, who defeated Northampton 41-22 in last season's competition, hit back.
Rory Kockott took advantage of more lapses in Northampton's defending to convert another penalty and give the home side a 13-6 lead at the interval. The Saints were immediately under pressure at the start of the second half, as Brian Mujati received a yellow card after gifting the home team a penalty for dragging a maul down.
Although Teulet missed the penalty, Castres were able to put the Saints under relentless pressure due to their man advantage. Antonie Classen powered his way over the line for the try and although Kockott failed to convert, the lead now stood at 18-6.
The game looked over for the Saints, but a sloppy lineout from Castres handed Mallinder's men a lifeline. Pisi took advantage of poor play from the home side, and dived over for the try. Myler converted the kick. But Castres hit back and Remi Tales sensed the next score was crucial and helped himself to a drop goal to give his side a 21-13 lead.
But the Saints continued to believe they were still in the game, and after a mistake by the Castres defence, Myler knocked over a penalty to bring his side to within one score of the home side. Northampton's late pressure was not enough, and with trips to Ulster and Glasgow to come, Mallinder's side have it all to do if they are to qualify for the knockout stages.
Despite the loss, Dylan Hartley is adamant that his side still have a fighting chance of making the quarter-finals. "We're not out of it," he said. "We've got Ulster next at our place, and we'll know where we are in terms of qualification a lot better after that one. There is still a long way to go in the competition. We knew that if we were to be considered contenders for the competition, we need win games at home against the likes of Ulster and that's where our focus now turns to."
Northampton coach Mallinder was proud of his team's efforts but claimed that simple errors let his side down. "We came up against a good side tonight on their own patch and knew it would be tough, just like it was last season," he said. "We fought well, but basic mistakes ultimately cost us the game.
"We must now look forward to Ulster, which will again be another tough game, but we've been in good form this season, and we know we can get a result against them at our place. We've got important games in the league before that, and our immediate attention will be on those matches."
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