It was just like the good old days for Northampton in this neck of south-west London last night.
Well, almost. It was in the premier competition that the Saints went marching to glory on the European trophy trail nine years ago. It was on the main stage at Twickenham, too – across the A316 at England’s HQ. Still, there were echoes of that famous 9-8 Heineken Cup final victory over Munster as Jim Mallinder’s men overcame a feisty Bourgoin side to lift the European Challenge Cup.
Back in 2000, Northampton were steered to victory by the right boot of Paul Grayson, the sometime England fly-half landing three penalties. Last night Grayson watched approvingly from the sidelines as another Lancastrian, performed the place kicking honours with supreme distinction. Stephen Myler – he of the celebrated Rugby League dynasty – landed five penalties out of five to secure not just the silverware but also a place in next season’s Heineken Cup. In the process, the 24-year-old fly-half consigned Wasps to the Challenge Cup and gave one Daniel Ciprinai something more to think about. Like the out-of-sorts Wasp, Myler is also a contender for the No 10 shirt for England Saxons at the Churchill Cup.
There were some 9,000 Northampton fans packed into the ground as Bruce Reihana – a native of Te Awamatu, also the home town of Neil Finn of Crowded House fame – led out his team to face a Bourgoin XV featuring a high-class half-back pairing in Benjamin Boyet and Morgan Parra. It was Saints who had the early momentum. They had the Bourgoin whitewash in their nostrils in the eighth minute when Myler shipped the ball out towards Paul Diggin in the shadow of the posts. The pass was snaffled by Karena Wihongi but the Kiwi tighthead prop was in an offside position and Myler despatched the penalty between the posts.
It was the cue for a Bourgoin backlash, with Wihongi making serious gains as a human battering ram. Saints held out, though, Reihana coming to the rescue when Boyet aimed a chip into the right corner. The East Midlanders proceeded to regain the initiative and might have stretched their lead in the 17th minute had Diggin not been beaten to his own kick by Jean-Francois Coux.
The flanker Scott Gray was also stopped just short but Myler banged over a second penalty before Bourgoin made their first and only impression on the scoreboard, Parra landing a penalty from 35 yards. Soon after the France scrum-half was sent to the cooler for his part in a mass dust up that also yielded a yellow card for Neil Best. In the aftermath, Northampton regained sufficient composure to force a third penalty chance for Myler, who duly furnished the English finalists with a 9-3 advantage at the half-way stage.
In the end, the Saints won with comparative ease. As their pack assumed their stranglehold, Myler struck two more penalties and could afford the luxury of two skewed goal attempts.
The game was won long before Tom Smith, the veteran Scotland and Lions loosehead, came on for a farewell bow in the final six minutes. Bourgoin did go down with something of a fight but only because of a late cheap shot of a right-hander from Thomas Genevois. It drew a red card from the replacement No 8 and some claret from Euan Murray. It would take more than that, though, to keep the sinned-against Saint – a titan at tighthead last night – from following in Smith’s footsteps on propping duties as a Lion in Springbok country.
Northampton: Penalties Myler 5. Bourgoin: Penalty Parra.
Northampton: B Foden; P Diggin, J Clarke (J Ansbro, 70), J Downey, B Reihana (capt); S Myler (B Everitt, 80), L Dickson (A Dickens, 66); S Tongauiha (T Smith, 74), D Hartley (B Sharman, 78), E Murray, I Fernandez Lobbe (C Lawes, h-t), J Kruger (C Day, 70), N Best, S Gray, M Easter.
Bourgoin: A Forest; R Coetzee, M Viazzo, Y David, J-F Coux (F Denos, 55); B Boyet, M Parra (M Forest, 74); A Tchougong, T Genevois, K Wihongi (P Cardinali, 69), C Basson (S Nicholas, 51), C Levast, J Frier (capt), W Jooste, Y Labrit (T Genevois, 58).
Referee: G Clancy (Ireland)Reuse content