Hartley hails perfect Saints
January 22, 2011
Saints skipper is looking forward to a Heineken Cup quarter-final at Franklin's Gardens © Getty Images
Northampton captain Dylan Hartley refused to get carried away after his side swept into the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup with a 23-12 victory over Castres at the Stade Pierre Antoine on Saturday evening.
The Saints had already secured a place in the knockout stages having won all five of their previous games in Pool 1. However, there was still the significant matter of a home draw in the last eight to play for in France.
Northampton were not at their best but still had too much for an under-strength Castres side and Joe Ansbro, Phil Dowson and Ben Foden all crossed as the visitors became the first English side to reach the end of the pool stages with their 100% record intact.
"We started the game well," said Hartley. "We played in the right areas of the field, Stephen Myler did well in that respect. Everything seemed to go well tonight. We played at the right times, set-pieces could do with a bit of a tidy up but away from home we're very happy with the win.
"We knew today was going to be confrontational, French teams are passionate and it was always going to be tough. Stephen Myler put us in the right areas of the pitch at the start of the game and he took the sting out of them and that put us on the front foot.
"Winning away from home is vital. To do it in the Heineken Cup is a big achievement so we're happy, quietly happy. We scored a couple of good tries but what won the game tonight was the defence. We're really happy with the defence."
As well as Myler, Hartley was also full of praise for Scotland international Ansbro and promising young lock Calum Clark.
"Joe and Calum were the two men of the match, I think," he said. "Calum's work rate was phenomenal, he's bloody awesome and he's only young. Joe as well. It's going to be a loss to the team him going to play for Scotland, but it's recognition for him and he's certainly playing well.
"Callum is young, he's keen and he's certainly what we want. It's what Northampton is about. He's young and he's talented and doing well."
The Saints bowed out of the Heineken Cup at the quarter-final stage last year, after being drawn away to the mighty Munster. As a result, he is delighted that they will have home advantage this time around.
"Winning the pool and six from six is important," the England hooker said. "What we learned from last year is that going away in quarter-final rugby is certainly not easy so we're certainly happy with the home draw.
"There's no team we want to avoid. Everyone's going to be tough. The pool stages are always tough. Whoever has gone through has earned it and it's going to be tough when we come to that. Hopefully we'll get a good result."
Meanwhile, Castres coach Laurent Labit was full of praise for the visiting Saints, labelling them the best side in the Aviva Premiership.
"They have impressive speed and efficiency and great players," he said of Northampton. "Moreover, they're players who are all at an international level, they all play for their country. They're third in the English league with two games in hand. In my opinion they're the best team in the English league.
"We spent the first 15-20 minutes struggling to get out of our half but in the second half we were better, we had a lot more possession and spirit and we managed to worry them. Unfortunately, what we lacked then was scoring when we were at our strongest, because if we had managed to score at 15-7 it could have been different."
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