Saints suffer Europe exit as Munster stay home

Northampton 36 Munster 51

Stadium MK

Northampton's long-time benefactor and former chairman, Keith Barwell, has had better birthdays than the one he spent watching his beloved Saints put through the Heineken Cup mincer in Milton Keynes. The leggy Munster wing Simon Zebo galloped to a second-half hat-trick to secure the top-seeded quarter-final place and a home tie with Ulster – and a potential semi-final in Ireland, against Edinburgh or Toulouse – for the team beaten by Barwell's club in the final of 2000 but who, in more recent years, have been part of a perennial Irish push into the latter stages.

Munster's success stalled last season when they missed the quarter-finals for the first time in 13 years and Leinster were champions. By roaring back with six pool wins, Munster have righted that wrong, albeit with late, late dropped goals by the evergreen Ronan O'Gara in the first two matches, against Northampton and Castres last autumn.

This return fixture at Saints' borrowed home was watched by a record Stadium mk crowd and turned on Munster's ferocious and skillful operation in the post-tackle area. Their buckling scrummage conceded two penalty tries – Paul O'Connell, the grizzled Munster captain, could not remember that happening to a team he was in – but they trumped everything else a Northampton side lacking the dropped England wing Chris Ashton could throw at them. From 19-19 at half-time and a 34-29 lead with 15 minutes remaining, Munster finished with five tries and 24 points from the boot of O'Gara, the competition's all-time record scorer.

Ashton, who was said by Saints' coach, Jim Mallinder, to have returned to training on Thursday and Friday after a reported row, is leaving for Saracens in the summer. It is rumoured James Downey will follow the Ulster-bound Roger Wilson back to Ireland while the Gloucester and England No 8 Luke Narraway fancies Franklin's Gardens.

Dylan Hartley, like Ashton and six other Saints, will join up with England tomorrow. Ashton will have played just twice in two months by the time of the Scotland match on Saturday week and may fear the form of Charlie Sharples and Dave Strettle is better than his. Hartley, the Northampton captain who recently extended his contract to 2015, said: "It's Chris's decision to move, I'll still be his mate. The reason I signed is I don't think there's anywhere else you'd want to be as a young English rugby player. We were there or thereabouts in this competition" – an invaluable win in Munster on weekend one was as close as a last-second swing of O'Gara's boot – "but losing at home to Scarlets certainly cost us."

Whereas O'Gara will turn 35 before the April quarter-finals, Zebo is a 21-year-old in the side due to the former All Black wing Doug Howlett's achilles tendon injury. The lad from Cork wowed the 3,000 Munster supporters with two classic finishes – on the touchline from Denis Hurley's sweet pop out of a tackle and with a slashing inside break – either side of an interception sprint from halfway. "The offloads from [Lifeimi] Mafi and Hurley, and the playmaking of Rog [O'Gara] makes it easy," Zebo said. "Dougie [Howlett] is like a mentor to me. He's been good to look up to."

It was not Munster's highest away score in the Heineken – though surely sweeter than the 55 points they put on Viadana in 2002-03 – but, surprisingly, it completed their first clean sweep of pool wins, better than in their Cup-winning seasons 2006 and 2008.

"I probably would have been confident about getting out of the group but not about winning six out of six," O'Connell said. "We've got a long way to go to get up to the standard of the Leinsters and the Toulouses but I just think the attitude was right."

As for Northampton, finalists against Leinster last season and England's sole quarter-finalists the year before, they suffered the ignominy common to Leicester, Bath, London Irish and Gloucester of finishing third in their pool, unable even to drop into the Amlin Challenge Cup.

Scorers: Northampton Saints: Tries Penalty try 2, Armstrong; Conversions Lamb 2, Myler; Penalties Lamb 4; Drop goal Lamb.

Munster: Tries Botha, Murphy, Zebo 3; Conversions O'Gara 3, Keatley; Penalties O'Gara 6.

Northampton: B Foden; J Elliott (S Armstrong, 69), G Pisi, J Downey, V Artemyev; R Lamb (S Myler, 73) L Dickson (M Roberts, 73); S Tonga'uiha (A Waller, 66), D Hartley (capt), B Mujati (P Doran-Jones, 65), S Manoa, M Sorenson (C Day, 62), C Clark (B Nutley, 62), P Dowson, R Wilson.

Munster: D Hurley; J Murphy, K Earls, L Mafi (D Barnes, 77), S Zebo; R O'Gara (I Keatley, 74), C Murray; W du Preez (M Horan, 55), D Varley (D Fogarty, 74), BJ Botha (S Archer, 73), Donncha O'Callaghan (M O'Driscoll, 73), P O'Connell (capt), D Ryan, P O'Mahony (Dave O'Callaghan, 73), J Coughlan.

Referee R Poite (France).

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol
art'Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' followed hoax reports artist had been arrested and unveiled
News
peopleJust weeks after he created dress for Alamuddin-Clooney wedding
Life and Style
tech

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010
films

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Sport
football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
News
i100
Sport
Adel Taraabt in action for QPR against West Ham earlier this month
footballQPR boss says midfielder is 'not fit to play football'
News
First woman: Valentina Tereshkova
peopleNASA guinea pig Kate Greene thinks it might fly
Voices
Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'
voices

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
The charity Sands reports that 11 babies are stillborn everyday in the UK
lifeEleven babies are stillborn every day in the UK, yet no one speaks about this silent tragedy
News
Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)
news

Parties threaten resort's image as a family destination

Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Salisbury ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities

The city is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, along with the world’s oldest mechanical clock
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album