Myler makes Connacht pay for penalties

Northampton 42 Connacht 13
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The Independent Online

The fly-half Stephen Myler kicked 20 points for Northampton as they secured a home semi-final in the European Challenge Cup. Saints, the 2000 Heineken Cup winners who have now won 32 of their past 33 games at Franklin's Gardens, will host the winners of today's match between Saracens and Newcastle on the first weekend in May.

Myler kicked six penalties from six to punish Connacht's malfunctioning scrum, which repeatedly fell foul of the French referee, Romain Poite. The visitors were watched by Ireland's Grand Slam-winning coach, Declan Kidney, and they were competitive until their full-back, Gavin Duffy, received their third yellow card. Saints cashed in with four tries in the final 11 minutes, from Neil Best, Joe Ansbro, the captain, Bruce Reihana, and Chris Mayor. Myler and Barry Everitt converted one try each.

Connacht's No 8, Ray Ofisa, scored an excellent try and their fly-half, Ian Keatley, kicked eight points, but they were overwhelmed by the loss of Brian McGovern, Jonny O'Connor and Duffy to the sin-bin. Penalised three times in the first half for pulling down the scrum, they lost their replacement prop, McGovern, when he paid the price for the previous misdemeanours of his team-mates a minute after replacing the injured Ronan Loughney in the 34th minute. Poite had asked Connacht's captain, John Muldoon, to deliver a final team warning.

Myler kicked a 40-metre penalty after the first time Connacht pulled down the scrum, in the 15th minute. Keatley equalised four minutes later but Myler restored Saints' lead in the 23rd minute after a ruck offence.

The Irish side were level again in the 29th minute when Keatley collected a clearance from Ben Foden and landed a drop goal. Myler then made it 9-6 and, with the visitors still reduced to 14 men, the former rugby league player struck again when Connacht were caught offside.

The Irish side went ahead for the only time in the 52nd minute, when Duffy provided a pass for Ofisa to carve his way through near the posts. The lead lasted only three minutes, though. Myler struck again, this time from 50 metres, after Connacht were penalised for obstruction.

Uncontested scrums were introduced for a second time as McGovern left the pitch in the 62nd minute, this time through injury, to be replaced by a back-rower Colm Rigney. O'Connor was sent to the sin-bin before Myler kicked his sixth penalty. The loss of Duffy then reduced Connacht to 13 men. Saints capitalised and drove the flanker Best over in the 69th minute.

Three minutes later Foden released Ansbro, who raced over to score in the left-hand corner. Myler missed the conversion but Northampton scored a third try in the 78th minute, moving the ball along the line for Reihana to race over on the wing. The replacement centre Mayor scored the fourth try, charging in following a slick build-up involving the replacement scrum-half, Alan Dickens.

Northampton: B Foden; P Diggin, J Ansbro, J Downey (C Mayor, 71), B Reihana (capt); S Myler (B Everitt, 75), L Dickson (A Dickens, 70); S Tonga'uiha (T Smith, 70), D Hartley (B Sharman, 70), E Murray (M Easter, 64), I Fernandez Lobbe, R Kruger, S Gray, R Wilson, S Gray.

Connacht: G Duffy; F Carr, K Matthews (T Nathan, 24), N Ta'auso (A Dunne, 76), L Bibo; S Keatley, F Murphy (C O'Loughlin, 76); B Wilkinson, S Cronin (A Flavin, 73), R Loughney (B McGovern, 35; C Rigney, 63) A Browne, A Farley, J Muldoon, J O'Connor, R Ofisa (M Swift, 59).

Referee: R Poite (France).

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