Saints seal home quarter-final
January 22, 2011
Joe Ansbro scored Northampton's first try
© Getty Images
Northampton Saints defeated Castres 23-12 at the Stade Pierre Antoine on Saturday to secure a home quarter-final in this season's Heineken Cup.
The Saints scored tries through Joe Ansbro, Phil Dowson and Ben Foden to end Castres' proud unbeaten home record, with Stephen Myler kicking eight points as the Premiership side also became the first to complete a clean sweep of a Heineken Cup group since Cardiff Blues in 2008-09.
Castres replied in the form of tries from halfbacks Pierre Bernard and Sebastien Tillous-Borde but the Top 14 team were unable to break down some well-drilled defence from the visitors, who look set to take their last eight tie to Milton Keynes following an ERC edict that all quarter-final venues must have a capacity of over 15,000.
The visitors put out a strong side, with Mark Sorenson the only change from last weekend's 37-0 triumph over Edinburgh - the lock replacing Christian Day. Castres had seen their slim hopes of progressing evaporate with defeat in Cardiff last weekend and, with an important Top 14 clash against Stade Francais coming up on Thursday, the hosts made 10 changes - resting six of their key players, including Romain Teulet and France winger Marc Andreu.
It did not take long for Saints to take the lead as, in the 10th minute, Roger Wilson picked out Ansbro and the Scotland international found some space down the right to race clear, evading the remaining defenders to touch down, although Myler missed the conversion.
The Saints extended their lead on 24 minutes with a drop-goal and as snow started drifting down as the visitors extended their advantage further thanks to Ansbro's surging run from deep. The 25-year-old ran most of the length of the field before neat interplay allowed Dowson to score, Myler adding the extras for a 15-0 lead.
The hosts got back in the game on the half-hour mark as the impressive Tillous-Borde's pass allowed Bernard to score Castres' first try from close range, which the fly-half then converted. The hosts came out after the break in determined fashion and the Saints were forced deep into their own half. Castres' sustained pressure almost paid off but Bernard just failed to ground the ball over the line after he had been picked out well by Matthieu Nicolas.
The outcome was all but decided shortly before the hour when Foden raced clear to score Saints' third try of the game after more excellent work from Ansbro, although Myler was once again wide of the mark with the conversion. Castres made a host of changes - including bringing on France prop Luc Ducalcon - but it made little difference and the Saints went further in front in the 72nd minute with a Myler penalty.
The hosts were denied a second try when referee Peter Fitzgibbon ruled that Tillous-Borde had been held up over the line, but the scrum-half did succeed seconds later when he crossed in the corner.
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