Ashton stays on the scent of Saints' last-eight ambitions

Northampton 30 Treviso 18
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The Independent Online

Northampton have long been one of England's go-ahead clubs – even during an unwanted season in the second division, they were busy building a better squad and bigger stadium – so rather than ignore supporters' requests for information, the programme for this match dwelled on a possible home Heineken Cup quarter-final being staged away from Franklin's Gardens. There is much to negotiate before thinking of the last eight, and the Saints must get the required results from trips to Treviso on Saturday and Munster in late January, with Perpignan at the Gardens – which is 1400 seats short of the minimum capacity for a quarter-final – between now and then.

Just the first of those tussles with the champion sides of their respective leagues will not be easy, judging by the way Treviso's tight forwards performed in the first of the back-to-back meetings. "Treviso showed why you can't treat anybody as a whipping team," said Saints second-rower Christian Day, who knows his Euro onions after a stint with Stade Français. "They played a good kicking game and we didn't respond to that well enough. We worked hard, got quicker ball at the start of the second half and we showed our class."

A charge-down try by Benjamin Vermaak helped Treviso into a 13-3 lead after 35 minutes, but four rapid-fire Northampton tries, including two by Chris Ashton, flipped the scoreline on its head to 27-13 before the third quarter was out. The pacy Ashton's unique selling point is a bloodhound's nose for following the ball, even when it takes him into unorthodox positions. Already, you wonder if that makes him an England wing in waiting, or just the type of player the national side won't pick.

"When we play fast and through the middle and get our forwards running round the corner, we are a match for all sides," said Jim Mallinder, Northampton's director of rugby. "We just need to play like that for 80 minutes."

Scorers: Northampton: Tries Ashton 2, Foden, Ansbro; Conversions Geraghty 2; Penalties Geraghty, Myler. Treviso: Tries Vermaak, Goosen; Conversion Botes; Drop-goal Goosen 2.

Northampton: B Foden; C Ashton, J Clarke, J Downey (S Myler, 64), J Ansbro (C Mayor, 67); S Geraghty, L Dickson (A Dickens, 64); S Tonga'uiha (B Mujati, 67), D Hartley (capt, B Sharman, 71), E Murray (S Bonorino, 54), C Lawes, C Day (J Kruger, 54), P Dowson, N Best (S Gray, 64), R Wilson.

Treviso: L McLean; A Vilk, A Sbargi, G Garcia (F Waters, 55), T Botes; M Goosen, F Semenzato (S Picone, 57); M Rizzo (A Allori, 40), L Ghiraldini (D Vidal, 40), I Fernandez Rouyet (Rizzo, 57), A Pavanello (capt; E Pavanello, 57), C van Zyl, B Vermaak, A Zanni, D Kingi.

Referee: P Gauzere (France)