Saints march on to Heineken final
May 1, 2011
Ben Foden scored Northampton's first
© Getty Images
Northampton turned in a powerful display to beat Perpignan 23-7 at stadium:mk in Milton Keynes on Sunday, setting up a Heineken Cup final date with Leinster and keeping alive their unbeaten streak in Europe.
The champions of 2000 face a huge task against the Irish province but they used the semi-final stage to underline their stature as one of European rugby's most dangerous sides by dismantling a much-vaunted Perpignan scrum.
Their dominance of the forward exchanges laid a platform for the steady Stephen Myler, who kicked 13 points from fly-half, while Ben Foden and Jon Clarke scored first-half tries to set up an unassailable 20-7 half-time lead.
Perpignan, who have never won a European match on English soil, were outmuscled and well beaten, with their indifference to the challenge ensuring that coach Jacques Brunel will leave for Italy without Europe's richest prize.
The Saints' opening try, scored on 15 minutes by Foden, enlivened the game after a mixed start for both sides, where their tactics and execution were muddled. Myler endured a nervous opening, mixing up a poor Garryowen with a charged-down clearance, but Perpignan also struggled to find their groove, settling for a dire 50 metre drop-goal attempt by Nicolas Laharrague after several phases of play just before the 10-minute mark.
In the space of five minutes the Saints took the initiative by bagging the opening score. Myler missed a tough penalty from the touchline but it mattered little as Phil Dowson picked a beautiful line off a James Downey pop pass, carving his way upfield before a quick switch allowed Foden to coast in.
Myler landed the extras and extended the lead before the half-hour mark, with a little help from the referee. George Clancy's dire call to penalise David Marty for offside after the centre raced clear from a Laharrague chip gave Myler a shot from halfway, and the Saints playmaker made no mistake for a 10-0 lead.
His radar temporarily deserted him moments later as he sliced a horrible effort across field, but Julien Candelon was on hand to rescue the situation by knocking on the bobbling ball. From the scrum Myler worked the ball deep to Clarke, who stepped off his left and through a yawning gap in the Perpignan midfield to score.
Candelon's nightmare couple of minutes continued as he was sin-binned for a dangerous charge on an airborne Dickson, with Myler adding insult to injury with another penalty on 37 minutes.
A moment's respite arrived for the visitors with a penalty from the restart, which they gamely sent to the corner. The gamble paid off for Brunel's side as Guirado peeled off the back of a perfectly-orchestrated maul to score. Porical landed the extras with seconds remaining in the half.
The second-half began with Northampton on the front-foot and the rampaging Soane Tonga'uiha to the fore. Two bursts from the giant loose-head had the visitors backtracking, one forcing Guirado into a try-saving tackle on Dylan Hartley in the corner.
Myler extended Northampton's lead with a well-struck penalty on 48 minutes and his side crucially held out moments later as Perpignan looked for a further score off their driving lineout. Twice the French side powered forward, but a rush of blood to the head for Guirado scuppered the chance as the hooker was bundled out short.
Perpignan persisted in putting penalties to the corner but got little change from the Saints, who were wise to the tactic and increasingly effective in dealing with it, as they were with the scrum. The closing stages of the game passed with Perpignan being humiliated at the set-piece time and again, with Tonga'uiha particularly effective against Perpignan's talisman, Nicolas Mas. Leinster have been put on notice.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
"To be part of the Commonwealth Games, I'd wear anything. I'd wear a clown suit." Tom Hamilton talks to Scotland's Sean Lamont
Scrum Sevens looks back at how rugby has fared in both the early Olympics and the past four Commonwealth Games
"Cheika's been phenomenal. He gives you an incredible level of mental strength." Tom Hamilton talks to Waratahs star Jacques Potgieter
While the Super Rugby season enters the all-important knockout phase, elsewhere pre-season training never looked so enjoyable. We round-up the best snaps in our Week in Pictures