English clubs have had their share of joy on French soil over the last few Heineken Cup tournaments – they are not all like Leicester, who fall flat on their faces every time they cross the water – so Northampton will have nothing to fear when they take the field in Castres tonight. Apart from anything else, they know their opponents backwards: they are sharing a pool with these particular Top 14 opponents for the third successive campaign and won comfortably at Stade Pierre-Antoine as recently as two seasons ago.
The home side's principal threat resides in the boot of Romain Teulet, one of the most punishingly consistent marksmen in a country full of people capable of kicking goals from anywhere and everywhere. Perhaps wisely, Northampton go into this game with two kickers of their own: Stephen Myler, who has moved from outside-half to full-back to fill the hole left by the injured James Wilson, and Ryan Lamb, who will perform the No 10 duties.
Elsewhere, the Saints stick with the combination that recovered from a 15-point deficit to register a bonus-point victory over Glasgow at Franklin's Gardens on Sunday. Jim Mallinder, the head coach, is far from ecstatic at the short turnaround: Castres played their opening game in Ulster a full week ago and will therefore be fresher by 48 hours. But with all their important players present and correct, from the Pisi brothers in the outside backs to Dylan Hartley and Courtney Lawes up front, the Premiership club will be disappointed if they fail to take something tangible from this evening's business.
Certainly the Anglo-Franco battles this week started well for the English with both Bath and Gloucester winning their Amlin Challenge Cup matches last night. Bath scraped past Agen 27-22 away with a last-minute try from Francois Louw while Gloucester defeated Bordeaux Bègles 25-13 to grab a winning bonus point at Kingsholm. Charlie Sharples gave Stuart Lancaster, an England coach short on wingers at present, a timely nudge with two first-half tries.
Back in the Heineken Cup, Glasgow, who looked a very decent side for half an hour last weekend, will have to put in a full shift if they are to see off Ulster in front of a big crowd at Scotstoun in the second of tonight's games. Their most creative backs, the full-back Stuart Hogg and the outside-half Ruaridh Jackson, have both recovered from injuries that curtailed their involvement against Northampton, but they have lost the wing Tommy Seymour to a one-week suspension imposed for tip-tackling Vasily Artemyev.
On a similar note, the Scotland and Lions lock Nathan Hines has been banned for six weeks for stamping on the Wales wing Morgan Stoddart during the Clermont Auvergne-Scarlets match in France. Hines denied the charge but was found guilty by the independent judicial officer Simon Thomas, who ruled that the Clermont forward had connected with his victim on more than one occasion. Thomas decided Hines' offence was worthy of a five-week suspension, but increased it after taking his "previous" into account.Reuse content