Ansbro and Saints are wholly convincing

Northampton make a splash by winning their Heineken pool undefeated

Northampton, with top spot in Pool One of the Heineken Cup secured, came here chasing the victory that would give them one of the top two seedings in the quarter-finals. Three tries, each featuring the electric pace of Joe Ansbro, ensured they did it, with a hefty chunk of defensive stoicism thrown in.

Franklin's Gardens is four hundred short of the 15,000 capacity demanded by the organisers to stage a last-eight tie, so a decision must be made over whether to switch to Milton Keynes or plead for a slight bending of the rules. "I will keep fighting to have it at home," said Jim Mallinder. "As a coach, and as players, that's what we want." By becoming the first English club since Bath in 2002 to win all six of their pool matches, the Saints may feel they have earned it. If the opponents turn out to be Leicester, the bigger venue may be inevitable.

"Last year we were just happy to get through," Mallinder said of the qualifying route that took Northampton away to Munster and no further. "We set our stall out this season that we wanted to improve and so far we have done that."

Castres were at half-strength, saving their perkiest XV for a Top 14 match against Stade Français. Though a record of 10 wins in 10 previous home matches was not be sniffed at, unlike the weather on a freezing night flecked with snowflakes, the first 10 minutes, culminating in Saints' first try, by Ansbro, suggested Northampton would get what they wanted. Tom Wood, a candidate to be called into England's Six Nations Championship squad on Monday, soared in the line-out; easy ground was made in contact. Rapid rucking and Jon Clarke's final pass helped send Ansbro over near the right corner.

Ansbro, a Scotland centre, was on the right wing in place of the injured Chris Ashton, while Calum Clark, normally a flanker, filled in at second row for Courtney Lawes. The efforts by Mallinder to strengthen his squad are paying off. Ashton should be fit to join England's training trip to Portugal this week.

Even a team more worried about their French league place will lick its lips at a bit of the old heave-ho near the opponents' line. Castres eschewed a kick at goal when Foden got isolated in his 22, and drove a line-out to within a gnat's whisker of scoring through Chris Masoe. The Northampton forwards did well to hold the former All Black flanker out.

When Myler calmly manoeuvred himself for a drop-goal after 24 minutes, Northampton led 8-0. Roughly 60 seconds later they had a second try. Myler lobbed the ball casually to Phil Dowson to score, after Ansbro had broken free from Roger Wilson's pass out of the tackle and Clark had given support. Myler converted.

A rare lapse by Clark and James Downey then allowed Castres' fly-half, Pierre Bernard, to score and convert a try for his side which hacked into Saints' lead in the 30th minute. But Castres' strong start to the second half foundered on Clark bucking up his ideas and his tackling and Foden at full-back following suit.

The last time Northampton had a home quarter-final, in 2000, they won the cup. It might not be wise to stick the mortgage on a repeat. There is the curious statistic that none of the seven previous teams to win throughout a pool have reached the final. Also, Toulouse and Leinster look better bets on all-round star quality.

For now, the Saints were content with Foden finishing the try of the night, in the 57th minute. Counter-rucking forced Castres back, Clark and Ansbro went up the right and a flip behind Dylan Hartley's back set Ansbro clear. A tap-tackle stopped him; Foden arrived at pace to see off a Castres straggler.

A ruck penalty allowed Myler to make it 23-7 after 69 minutes; Castres kept on booting their penalties to touch, trusting the elastic Uruguayan Rodrigo Capo Ortega. Goodness knows how, but Dowson prevented the No 8, Jan de Bruin Bornman, from going over before the scrum-half Sébastien Tillous-Border slid in at the corner. Bornman really should have scored. Northampton's rebirth as European contenders continues.

Castres: F Denos; M Nicolas, Y Audrin (R Martial, 61), P-M Garcia (S Bai, 72), V Inigo; P Bernard, S Tillous-Borde; M Coetzee (A Peikrishvili, 60), B Kayser (A Giorgadze, 52), D Saayman (L Ducalcon, 67), S Murray, R Capo Ortega, C Masoe (capt; G Adamou, 52), J Bornman, S Malonga (I Tekori, 80).

Northampton Saints: B Foden; J Ansbro, J Clarke, J Downey (B Reihana, 67), P Diggin; S Myler (S Geraghty, 78), R Powell (S Commins, 78); S Tonga'uiha (A Waller, 72), D Hartley (capt; B Sharman, 69), B Mujati (T Mercey, 72), C Clark, M Sorenson (C Day, 57), P Dowson, R Wilson, T Wood (M Easter, 67).

Referee: P Fitzgibbon (Ireland).

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas