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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
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

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve