Saints eye rare clean sweep
January 21, 2011
Northampton celebrate one of Paul Diggin's four tries against Edinburgh © Getty Images
Northampton have made easy work of the Heineken Cup group stage and can notch up a rare feat this weekend as they take on Castres at the Stade Pierre Antoine.
The Saints are one step away from a clean sweep of their Heineken Cup group, a deed last accomplished by an English team back in 2001-02, when Bath progressed to the last eight with an unblemished record.
Castres remain in the hunt for Amlin Challenge Cup qualification but are likely to face a fired-up challenge from the visitors, who are within touching distance of a home quarter-final following last weekend's 37-0 win over Edinburgh.
Castres - Player to Watch: Former All Black Chris Masoe adds so much to the Castres back-row as a ball carrier and he will want to disrupt the visitors' rhythm whenever possible.
Castres - Team News: Pierre Bernard will share the playmaking duties with France international scrum-half Sebastien Tillous-Borde. Former Scotland international Scott Murray starts in the second-row and ex-Leicester hooker Benjamin Kayser will enjoy a runout at hooker.
Northampton - Player to Watch: With Lewis Moody set to miss most of the Six Nations, Tom Wood has a chance to stake his claim for international honours at openside.
Northampton - Team News: Jim Mallinder has named a strong side for the trip across the channel, with Paul Diggin and Ben Foden joined in the back-three by Scotland's Joe Ansbro. Phil Dowson and Wood get their chance to impress Martin Johnson in the back-row while Soane Tonga'uiha, Dylan Hartley and Brian Mujati are present and correct in the front-row.
Key Battle: Castres have a proud home record and a fearsome pack of forwards, who will not want to be bullied on their home track. The scrum and maul have been big strengths for Northampton this season and there will be a huge struggle for dominance in the tight.
Trivia: Should Northampton secure an unbeaten start to their European season they will join a select group. Wasps, Leinster (twice), Scarlets, Biarritz and Cardiff Blues have achieved it so far, although Toulouse are also on course to make it six from six against Wasps this weekend.
Stats: Paul Diggin's four-try haul against Edinburgh last weekend broke the Saints' European record for most tries in a game, a mark previously held by Matt Dawson and Ben Cohen on three.
"They have come out publicly and made no secret about the fact they want to maintain their unbeaten home record so it will be very difficult for us to go down there and get the win." - Northampton coach Jim Mallinder.
Prediction: Northampton know the importance of a home quarter-final to their hopes and will go out all guns blazing against a side with little to play for aside from pride in their home record. Away win.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Tom Hamilton pays a visit to Oxford University Women's Rugby Football Club who have recently made headlines across the world, from Tokyo to New York
"Gentlemen, if you want to see the World Cup going south yet again, you are going the right way about it," John Taylor looks at the state of European rugby
The Heineken Cup proved once again just why it is the best domestic rugby competition in the world at the weekend and Monday Maul picks out some of the key talking points