Northampton have reached the conclusion that convention flies out the window when it comes to Heineken Cup rugby after squeezing out victory over Edinburgh at Murrayfield.
The mantra of many coaches has been "performance, performance, performance" but Jim Mallinder's team now know it is results that matter most in Europe.
After struggling to use the ball with either hands or boot against Castres, those issues were resolved at Murrayfield only for their defence to go missing against Edinburgh. Yet Saints claimed a second win, again by a four-point margin, to move top of Pool One, three points clear of closest rivals Cardiff, who they meet next, home and away, in December.
Captain Dylan Hartley said: "The first-half performance was pretty shoddy but we will take a win away from home. That's what is most important. Away wins are pretty hard to come by in the Heineken Cup but we worked hard for it."
They were made to work hard by an Edinburgh team that had the courage of their convictions in the first half, recovering from Hartley's seventh-minute bulldozer of a try to score three breath-taking tries of their own. Allan Jacobsen, Netani Talei and Ben Cairns all finishing with aplomb as Edinburgh raced into a 24-13 lead after just half-an-hour with a spring in their step.
It took a timely try by James Downey on the stroke of half-time and some choice words in the Saints dressing room immediately after to stem the growing Scottish tide and squeeze out the win. Hartley said: "The first half was not what we are about. We gave Edinburgh far too many easy yards and allowed them to get some easy scores. They proved what an attacking threat they can be and played some good rugby, especially their off-load game from turnovers.
"So we knew we had to solve the problem by cutting out those errors and putting in some tackles. In the end that worked. We dug in, turned things around and produced a second half that we can be proud of.
"Now we have some big games in the Premiership to come before facing Cardiff next," he added,
This game was a fascinating contrast in styles and for all of Edinburgh's free-flowing rugby, Northampton turned the screw up front. The scrums, in particular, were barely a contest.
Star of the first half was Edinburgh's 22-year-old lock Fraser McKenzie, who even managed to outshine Courtney Lawes with his support play. By the end of the game, there was barely a blade of grass on the Murrayfield turf that McKenzie had not covered. The flanker was involved in all three tries, combining with the half-back brothers Dave and Mike Blair, to wonderful effect.
However, the Saints' advantage in the scrums was key, providing the platform for Downey's score and leading directly to Talei's blunder just yards off his own line that ended with Paul Diggin touching down in the corner. Stephen Myler added the conversion and penalty to finish with 16 points and draw a line under the Saints' kicking curse.
Director of rugby Jim Mallinder said: "Steve has been on the bench in recent weeks gagging for his chance and he really took it. He had a fantastic game, he put the ball in the right areas, defended well and kicked his goals." Defeat was harsh on Edinburgh who deserved more than a losing bonus point for their three tries but their Heineken Cup campaign now appears doomed.
Scorers: Edinburgh: Tries A Jacobsen, N Talei, B Cairns; Conversions C Paterson 3; Penalties C Paterson 2. Northampton: Tries: D Hartley, J Downey, P Diggin; Conversions S Myler 2; Penalties S Myler 4.
Edinburgh: C Paterson; J Thompson, B Cairns, J King, T Visser; D Blair, M Blair; A Jacobsen (K Traynor, 65), R Ford (A Kelly, 65), G Cross (D Young, 61), S MacLeod (C Hamilton, 61), F McKenzie, A MacDonald, N Talei, R Grant (capt).
Northampton: G Tonks, C Ashton, J Clarke (J Ansbro 72), J Downey, P Diggin, S Myler, L Dickson (R Powell, 62), S Tongauiha, D Hartley (capt), B Mujati (E Murray, 55), C Lawes, C Day (M Sorenson, 72), P Dowson, R Wilson, T Wood (C Clarke, 70).
Referee: J Garces (France)Reuse content