Northampton book quarter-final berth
January 14, 2011
Paul Diggin scores Northampton's second try in their win over Edinburgh on Friday night
© PA Photos
Northampton powered into the last eight of this season's Heineken Cup with a 37-0 victory over Edinburgh at Franklin's Gardens.
Four tries from winger Paul Diggin and another from prop Brian Mujati ensured Saints will progress to the quarter-finals as winners of Pool 1 following a largely lacklustre clash against their Scottish rivals. Two first half tries put the home side on course for victory but it was not until the final ten minutes - by which stage Cardiff Blues' victory over Castres had all but guaranteed the Saints' passage - that the hosts came alive. The late, late show set the seal on Northampton's return to winning ways following Premiership defeats to Quins and Leicester and underlined their title credentials.
A crunching hit from Edinburgh hooker Geoff Cross flattened Saints fly-half Stephen Myler in the opening minute but he shrugged off the blow to spearhead his side's push for the opening try of the game. His boot laid the foundation for an attacking lineout before his forwards peppered the Edinburgh line with Mujati eventually forcing his way over from close range. Myler slotted the extras to extend his side's dream start before Edinburgh came to life only to be denied by a resolute Northampton defence.
Some good work from Edinburgh skipper Roddy Grant at the breakdown then handed fullback Chris Paterson the chance to open his account but he pushed the penalty wide. Northampton's superior muscle engineered the next score with Myler adding to his tally from the kicking tee after Edinburgh hooker Ross Ford had been penalised for his attempts to snuff out the danger in the shadow of his own posts.
Edinburgh's indiscipline continued to hand Northampton the initiative but visitors held firm and their industry in attack ensured the hosts did not have everything their own way. But a break from centre Jon Clarke and a strong run from winger Joe Ansbro had Edinburgh on the back foot on the half hour with the home side thwarted by some scrambling defence. But a touch of class from Myler opened the visitors up a couple of minutes later. The fly-half slotted a perfectly weighted kick into the Edinburgh 22 that allowed winger Diggin to utilise his pace before collecting the ball and burrowing over in the corner for his side's second try.
Edinburgh shrugged off their latest set-back by driving into the Saints' 22 with Grant heavily involved but their efforts were undone latter when winger Tim Visser was penalised for a tackle off the ball. But they were soon knocking on the door again and with Paterson off the field injured, fly-half David Blair stepped up for the next penalty attempt but again it fell the wrong side of the posts. And it would get worse for Edinburgh on the stroke of half-time with loose-head Kyle Traynor sent to the sin-bin as referee Christophe Berdos finally ran out of patience although Myler could not make them pay further with the long range penalty.
An early penalty at the start of the second half against Ford for obstruction allowed Myler to notch his second penalty that cemented his side's lead. But despite being in control of the contest the Saints seemed unable to find the spark that has ignited much of their attacking play this season.
As a result Traynor returned to the game with no further damage to the scoreboard and it was Edinburgh who conjured the next scoring opportunity with Visser driving into the Northampton 22 before slow ball and a poor pass from Mike Blair to brother David brought an end to a promising move.
A subdued home crowd did their best to lift their side but a lengthy delay following an injury to replacement Edinburgh prop Dave Young robbed them off priceless momentum. A kick to the corner for an attacking lineout on the hour mark raised hopes once more only for Edinburgh's Scott Macleod to steal the ball.
Northampton's attempts to give the ball some air brought were welcomed by those fans starved of the kind of free-flowing rugby they have become used to this season but Myler's boot continued to dominate. Another penalty saw the Saints take the game inside the Edinburgh 22 and while they discovered a sense of urgency they were unable to pick their way through to the line.
Northampton were equally committed in defence and a smart counter led by Ansbro carved open Edinburgh but his wayward pass to an open and flying Diggin failed to go to hand. But Clarke made no such mistake moments later after fullback Ben Foden had launched the latest counter from inside his own 22 with Diggin's pace carrying him to the corner for his second try.
Myler could not add the difficult conversion but Saints did not dwell on the fact as they went in search of an unlikely bonus point. And it was in the bag two minutes before the end with Foden cutting a great line into the 22 before feeding Ansbro who generously gifted the ball to Diggin for his hat-trick. Myler's conversion extended their advantage but they were not finished there.
Replacement Bruce Reihana ghosted down the touchline after Foden had again orchestrated the opening and when he was stopped in his tracks in the 22, Diggin loomed up once again in support to grab his fourth try that was converted by replacement Ford in the last act of the game.
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