Well beaten, but not beaten well, Northampton could legitimately add another brushstroke of silver to the lining of the cloud that has recently engulfed a club with such a proud history as they went down fighting to Toulouse.
The defeat tipped them off the top of Pool Three of the Heineken Cup and made qualification for the quarter-finals more of a struggle. They still have a difficult game away against Llanelli Scarlets and cannot be complacent at home to Glasgow. But they could feel some continuing lift from the mire of the bottom of the Premiership and the upheaval of a sacked coach and a hastily assembled new coaching team.
Having sneaked a win the week before over one of the richest and most well-endowed outfits in France, the return on Saturday was never going to be easy. But Toulouse are a side who, despite their abundance of international talent, can stumble unexpectedly at home. This win will probably carry them into an automatic quarter-final place, but this was not one of their glory days.
That Northampton restricted their hosts to just one try is testimony not just to a French inability to go for the kill but to the Saints' dogged determination. "I don't think we took a step backwards all afternoon," said their captain, the England hooker Steve Thompson. "I think we really dug in and, for the fans who have had to live through a difficult season [nearly 1,500 of them made the pilgrimage to support their beloved Saints], I can't thank them enough."
That included not conceding a single point when they were down to 14 men early in the second half as Matt Lord cooled his heels in the sin-bin. Was it the damp, dank and cold conditions which numbed some of the Toulouse attack? A glittering parade of internationals, keeping the potential Lions captain Gareth Thomas on the bench for most of the game, were reduced to relying on five penalties from Jean-Baptiste Elissalde to deny Northampton a losing bonus point. He took over the kicking after a crunching tackle by Andrew Blowers, who was later taken off with a neck injury, saw Frédéric Michalak limp off with a twisted right ankle.
The return of Bruce Reihana to the Saints full-back shirt will be welcomed by Jon Clarke after five fumbles, two of which led to penalties, and Ben Cohen may have to fight for his return to the wing given the number of times he spilled the ball in the tackle at centre. But what is already in place is the old Northampton spirit.
Toulouse: Try Poux; Conversion Elissalde; Penalties Michalak, Elissalde 5. Northampton: Penalties Drahm 4.
Toulouse: N Jeanjean (C Poiternaid, 80); V Clerc, Y Jauzion, F Fritz (G Thomas, 79), C Heymans; F Michalak (J-F Dubois, 13), J-P Elissalde; J-P Poux (P Collazo, 87), W Servat (Y Bru, 63), O Hasan, G Lamboley, F Pelous (capt), J Bouilhou, T Brennan (C Labit, 57), I Maka (F Maka, 77).
Northampton: J Clarke (P Grayson, 79); W Human, B Cohen, M Stcherbina, J Rudd; S Drahm, M Robinson; C Budgen, S Thompson (capt), R Morris (B Sturgess, 80), M Lord, D Browne, C Krige (D Richmond, 66), M Soden, A Blowers (G Seeley, 57).
Referee: D Courtney (Ireland).Reuse content