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Northampton Saints are desperate to keep their winning momentum rolling when Castres come to town for Round 5 of the European Rugby Champions Cup.
The Saints are out of the quarter-final race after back-to-back defeats to Leinster and their 41-7 Round 2 loss at Stade Pierre Antoine. But they have a shot at redemption this weekend after finally finding some form.
Three consecutive victories in the Aviva Premiership has seen them rise from 10th to fifth ahead of their European return. But Castres still have a slim hope of qualifying if they can repeat their heroics over Northampton and do the same against Leinster at home a week later.
The TOP14 side have proved to be a force to be reckoned with at home after victories over Montpellier and the Saints. But they have struggled on the road, suffering defeats to Leinster and the Challenge Cup holders.
They were beaten 22-8 by La Rochelle last time out, while Northampton battled to a 32-26 defeat of Bristol at Franklin’s Gardens. And coach Alan Dickens is determined to remain in their fine vein of form.
He said: “We do need to keep the momentum but we’ve got a game next week, it’s a home against Castres and we want to put in a good performance. We’ll pick a team that we think can win the game and then we’ll go onto Montpellier in two weeks time.
“We could argue, if we’re being critical, that we perhaps should have got an extra point against Sale here two weeks ago but 13 points in the last three games is a positive and we just need to continue that momentum.
“After that two weeks of Anglo-Welsh action and then when we come back into the Premiership after those competitions is when the Six Nations is on so again that will mean that players within in the squad will need to step up and perform.”
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Northampton Saints resisted a second-half comeback to send Castres crashing out of the European Rugby Champions Cup.
A brace from Tiemana Harrison and Stephen Myler’s score had put the Saints 21-8 ahead at half-time. Alexander Bias crossed to keep Castres in the match, and they showed all their grit to fight back to keep their quarter-final hopes alive.
Julien Dumora ghosted over and Rory Kockott added eight points from the kicking tee to level it up with 20 minutes to go. But captain Tom Wood led from the front to power over and seal a bonus-point 28-21 triumph, meaning Castres are out of the running for the last eight.
Castres were chasing a triumph to keep their slim last eight hopes alive, but they got off to the worst possible start. The Saints cam flying out of the blocks and were soon knocking on the French try-line. Myler then popped the ball to Harrison, who crashed over from close range. Myler converted for a 7-0 lead, before Kockott pulled three points back with a penalty.
Castres hooker Jody Jenneker was sin-binned for handling the ball at a ruck, but his side showed their spirit to hit the front. Ben Foden was powerless to stop the French side from utilising their overlap to send flanker Bias storming down the wing to score at the corner.
But the Saints response was immediate. Scrum-half Nick Groom sniped through after a lineout before some quick ball at the breakdown allowed Myler to stroll over the try-line. He converted for a 14-8 lead, before it got even better.
Northampton got back down into Castres territory before Wood got his hands on the ball at a ruck. The ball squirmed out to Harrison, who dived over for a double and a 21-8 half-time lead. The game looked beyond Castres at the break, but outside-half Dumora ghosted through a gap to score before Kockott converted to bring them back to within six points.
Franklin’s Gardens fell silent as Kockott landed two more penalties to close the 13-point gap and make it 21-21 with a quarter to play. But they were back on their feet when Wood charged through the defence to score after an overthrown lineout to earn a bonus-point triumph.