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).

BUY RUGBY WORLD CUP TICKETS

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
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future