Credit to Northampton – they simply were not prepared to allow their European campaignto expire without a kick and a scream. Munster's subsequent victory against Castres ensured that the Saints' Heineken Cup is all but over, but their ever-so gutsy fightback ensured that they will at least have something to play for next weekend.
The Scarlets' attempt to reach a first Heineken quarter-final in five years is over. To drop down to the Amlin Challenge Cup knockout stages, as Northampton still hope to do, they will need to win at Castres and hope Munster can beat Saints. That is the situation following a gripping match which, contrary to the scoreline, was alive until the last play.
Ben Foden intercepted a pass from the replacement scrum-half Rhodri Williams and ran the length of the pitch. It was the England full-back who epitomised the visitors' resurgence and resistance which saw the game complete a dramatic flip-flop. After winning the first half 14-6, the Scarlets lost the second 23-3. But, if anything, they carved out more opportunities in the second period.
"We created enough opportunities to win that game," said Nigel Davies, their coach. "I don't think Northampton were the better side – we played the majority of the rugby. The pain of not qualifying will live with us for a long time and it will drive us. At the moment it's hard to take."
The mood of the Saints director of rugby, Jim Mallinder, was in total contrast. Stephen Myler's boot was without error, yielding 17 points, while the industrious flanker Calum Clark, returning after two months, showed why Stuart Lancaster has called him up for England with another new cap, the Scarlets No 8 Ben Morgan.
But Foden stole this show, if not with his grandstand finish then certainly with a defensive effort which saw him make a number of try-saving tackles: a pull-down of Liam Williams as the clock ticked down was particularly memorable. Foden was absent when the Scarlets won at Franklin's Gardens.
"Ben Foden is a world-class player in both attack and defence and it was good to have him there this time," said Mallinder, celebrating his side's fifth win from five in all competitions. "We wanted to make amends for the defeat at Franklin's Gardens and coming here and winning shows we are a good side in Europe."
It looked ominous at half-time as Rhys Priestland's three penalties and pinpoint cross-kick into the arms of Viliami Iongi for a try forged a handy advantage. But the Saints marched out with a different attitude and the prop Soane Tonga'uiha stuck his hand out of a ruck and over. "It didn't look a try to me," said Davies. Whatever, Allain Rolland was happy to allow the video referee to adjudicate.
This was the Irish referee's first game in Wales since he sent off the Wales captain, Sam Warburton, ina World Cup semi-final. He delighted the locals by sending Tom May to the sin-bin within two minutes, after the centre threw the ball in the face of Gareth Davies. Letter of the law and all that. Some of Rolland's decisions were dubious; he will be pleased the experience is behind him.
Tonga'uiha's try and Myler's penalties constructed a lead Saints protected frantically. Williams came within inches, as did Aaron Shingler. But for all the time they spent in the opposition 22, the Scarlets could not score. Foden and co should be commended.
Scarlets L Williams; G North, S Williams, J Davies, V Iongi (S Jones, 58); R Priestland, G Davies (R Williams, 70); I Thomas (P John, 58), M Rees (capt; K Owens, 58), D Manu (R Jones, 70), L Reed, D Day (J Edwards, 66), A Shingler, B Morgan, R McCusker (J Turnbull, 70).
Northampton Saints B Foden; C Ashton, G Pisi, T May (S Armstrong, 70), V Artemyev; S Myler (R Lamb, 70), M Roberts (L Dickson, 58) ; S Tonga'uiha, D Hartley (capt), B Mujati (P Doran-Jones, 58), S Manoa, M Sorenson (C Day, 63), C Clark, R Wilson, P Dowson.
Referee A Rolland (Ireland).
Pens: Priestland 4
Tries: Tonga'uiha, Foden
Cons: Myler, Lamb
Pens: Myler 5