Howley is inspiration as Cardiff defy odds

Cardiff 25 Northampton 17
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Cardiff defied the heavy odds stacked up against them to win this opening Heineken Cup pool game at the Arms Park last night. After a somewhat calamitous start to the season, which saw the self-billed world's biggest club tumble out of the Celtic League at the qualification stage, it was a terrific achievement.

Considering that 11 first-team players were missing due to injury, Cardiff were purposeful and effective in the opening exchanges. François Mounier – a Frenchman who few Frenchman know anything about – was a key element in the Cardiff pack, while props Spencer John and Dai Young gave Tom Smith and Mattie Stewart the lesson of a lifetime.

It gave the home side an opportunity to establish a healthy lead and, had it not have been for three missed penalties by the fly-half Nicky Robinson, they would have lead 15-0 at the interval. As it was, they were 6-0 to the good. It hardly told the story because Cardiff were head and shoulders above their visitors in all areas. They ran well, tackled with particular venom and showed great ingenuity behind. Northampton, in contrast, were staid and predictable.

Robinson missed a fourth kick at goal, four minutes after the restart, but he made amends a minute later. A long pass to the former Saint Matt Allen exposed a gaping hole in the defence and Rhys Williams took receipt of the pass and galloped over unopposed.

Robinson converted before Grayson registered the Saints' first points with a penalty 60 seconds later, but Cardiff always had the upper hand.

It was perhaps fitting that Rob Howley should score the most important try. A succession of forays from the Cardiff forwards gave him the platform and he stretched out an arm to score his side's second try that Robinson converted.

The replacement Ali Hepher raced on to a clever kick through from James Brooks to give Northampton some hope in the final 10 minutes but a try on the right from left wing Anthony Sullivan put paid to any feint hopes of a Northampton revival, despite Grant Seeley's late try.

Cardiff: Tries Williams, Howley, Sullivan; Conversions N Robinson 2; Penalties N Robinson 2. Northampton: Tries Martin, Seeley; Conversions Hepher 2; Penalties Grayson.

Cardiff: R Williams; A Henry, J Robinson, M Allen, A Sullivan; N Robinson, R Howley; S John (P Rogers, 73), A Lewis (G Woods, 74), D Young (capt; K Fourrie, 75), C Quinnell, J Tait (G Powell, 77), F Mounier, R Appleyard, S Sititi.

Northampton: P Grayson (A Hepher, 64); N Beal (L Martin, 24), J Leslie, M Tucker, B Cohen; J Brooks, M Dawson (D Malone, 74); T Smith, S Thompson, M Stewart, A Newman (R Hunter, 71), J Phillips, A Blowers, B Poutney (capt), G Seeley.

Referee: J Jutge (France).