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Castres v Northampton Saints,
Beleaguered Saints travel to Castres
ESPNscrum Staff
December 9, 2011
The Scarlets' Matt Gilbert powers towards the line, Northampton Saints v Scarlets, Heineken Cup, Franklin's Gardens, Northampton, England, November 18, 2011
The Scarlets overpowered Northampton at Franklin's Gardens © Getty Images
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Tournaments/Tours: Heineken Cup

Northampton Saints travel to France to face Castres in a defining match of their season.

Last season's finalists are in serious danger of being knocked out of the Heineken Cup following two defeats from their opening two fixtures in the competition. The Saints suffered a last ditch defeat to Munster in Ireland and then lost to a rampant Scarlets side at Franklins Gardens. And their preparations have taken a battering with the suspensions handed out to Chris Ashton and Phil Dowson on Tuesday.

Castres will have to record heavy wins in their remaining fixtures if they are to progress to the quarter finals. The French side suffered an away defeat to the Scarlets in the Pool one opener before Munster's Ronana O'Gara robbed them a home win against the Irish province.

Castres - Player to Watch: Rory Kockott is going about his business in a quiet but uber-efficient fashion. After his summer switch from the Sharks, the South African scrum-half has made the position his own at Castres.

Castres - Team News: Romain Teulet lines up at fullback with Romain Martial and Max Evans on the wing. Thomas Sanchou and Seremaia Bai form the centre partnership with Remi Tales and Rory Kockott at half-back. Michael Coetzee, Marc-Antoine Rallier and Luc Ducalcon form the front-row while Scott Murray and Rodrigo Capo Ortega are the chosen second-rows. Ibrahim Diarra, Steve Malonga and Chris Masoe are the back-row.

Northampton Saints - Player to Watch: With Chris Ashton suspended, Jamie Elliott and Vasily Artemyev are given the chance to shine on the wings. Expect them to raise their game for the trip to Castres.

Northampton Saints - Team News: Northampton Saints have been hit by suspensions in recent times but still field a strong team. Ben Foden starts at fullback with Vasily Artemyev and Jamie Elliott on the wings. George Pisi and Tom May start in the centres while Stephen Myler is given the fly-half spot alongside Lee Dickson. Soane Tonga'uiha starts at loose-head alongside Dylan Hartley and Paul Doran Jones. Courtney Lawes and Mark Sorensen form the second-row with Tom Wood, Ben Nutley and Samu Manoa in the back-row.

Key Battle: Scott Murray against Courtney Lawes in the second-row should be an epic battle. Lawes is yet to hit the same sort of form shown last season and the experienced Murray will have him in his sights.

Trivia: Northampton were crowned European champions in 2000

Stats: Stephen Myler is Northampton's second highest points scorer in the European Cup with 262 points. Paul Grayson is top with 422

Quote Unquote:

"We are hosting a very big team which has ambitions to be champions of Europe. We have, in this pool, two pretenders to the title. One can call it the pool of death."
Castres coach Laurent Travers looks forward to welcoming the Saints

"The Heineken Cup is good. It is big for me. Coming from where I played back home to laying in the Heineken Cup is a big step for me. The competition is up there, you have got to bring your A game when you play in the Heineken Cup."
Samu Manoa is relishing the chance to play in the Heineken Cup for the Saints

Prediction: Northampton to secure their first win of this season's competition and preserve their Heineken Cup hopes with a crucial away win.

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