Saints march into semi-finals
November 1, 2008
Northampton's Chris Ashton touches down for one of his two tries
© Getty Images
Northampton booked their place in this season's EDF Energy Anglo-Welsh Cup with a convincing 33-20 victory over Scarlets at Franklin's Gardens.
The Saints staged a stunning four-try fightback to grab the bonus point victory which takes them into the last four and breaks the Welsh stranglehold on this year's competition.
Trailing to early tries by Regan King and Matthew Stoddart, they stormed back with two first-half tries from flying winger Chris Ashton before skipper Bruce Reihana and Scottish international winger Sean Lamont secured a memorable victory by crossing in the second half. Scarlets, needing only a draw to win Pool D, struck the opening blow after five minutes when Kiwi centre King went over in the right-hand corner.
Fly-half Ceiron Thomas was stopped just short as he drove for the line but the visitors whipped the ball out wide for scrum-half Sililo Martens to send King in. Three minutes later the Saints defence was ripped open again when Welsh international full-back Stoddart overlapped on the left wing to take a pass from King and race past Reihana's despairing tackle.
But Northampton, refusing to relinquish their hopes of a semi-final place, hit back in the 10th minute with Ashton's first try. Saints launched a drive off a line-out before scrum-half Ben Foden threw a long pass to Ashton, who beat Martens to go over near the corner flag.
Thomas, who had missed two conversion attempts and a penalty, finally succeeded with a simple penalty to move the Scarlets 13-5 ahead when Northampton were caught offside in front of their own posts. The Welsh side, who had looked like romping away with the game in the opening stages, allowed Northampton back into the match and only a solid piece of covering by number eight David Lyons stopped Myler after a fine break through the middle by Foden - switched to his favourite scrum-half role after impressing at full-back against Saracens last weekend.
Myler kept Saints in touch with a 21st-minute penalty, before missing another three minutes later, but the home side drew level in the 29th minute when Ashton showed another excellent turn of pace before diving over in the corner once again after taking a pass from Reihana which looked suspiciously forward.
Referee Wayne Barnes referred to the video official before allowing the try but Myler missed the difficult conversion, his third failure from four kicks. Thomas, having an equally problematic afternoon in the windy conditions, suffered his third miss from four attempts when he was short with a long-range penalty in the 32nd minute.
The official called for a second video replay on the stroke off half-time when Scarlets executed a quick line-out on the right, moved the ball rapidly across the pitch for Stoddart to burst through on the charge before being hauled down just short of the line but the decision went against the visitors.
Northampton went ahead for the first time five minutes into the second half with a brilliant strike from Reihana. Taking a short pass from Foden, he burst through the middle and showed his strength by crashing through three tacklers on the line for an inspired score, made even better when Myler converted from the touchline.
Another video decision went against the Scarlets in the 53rd minute when Lyons was ruled to have lost the ball as he went over the Northampton line. Scarlets sent on five replacements, including Wales goalkicker Stephen Jones, in the space of seven minutes, in a bid to salvage the match.
However, he fared no better than Thomas - pulling his first long-range penalty attempt wide. Myler, from a similar position just inside the opposing half - but with the wind behind him - hit the target with his 62nd minute attempt to stretch the home lead to 23-13.
Rampaging Saints secured the all-important bonus point in the 65th minute when Lamont stormed over near the posts after Lee Dickson, who had taken over at scrum-half 12 minutes earlier after Foden suffered a knock, found him with a perfectly-judged pass. Myler added the conversion to make the score 30-13 but Northampton had to play out the final 10 minutes without centre James Downey - who was sin-binned for taking out Stephen Jones off the ball.
Scarlets capitalised when King sent replacement right-winger Jonathan Davies over near the corner flag in the 73rd minute and Stephen Jones made the conversion to cut the deficit to 10 points. But any lingering hopes of denying the home side victory ended when Myler kicked his second penalty three minutes from time to take his haul to 13 points.
Northampton: Reihana, Ashton, Mayor, Downey, Lamont, Myler, Foden, Smith, Shields, Murray, Fernandez Lobbe, Lawes, Hopley, S. Gray, Wilson.
Replacements: Diggin for Reihana (58), Dickson for Foden (53), J. Gray for Shields (71), Tonga'uiha for Murray (71), Day for Lawes (22), Easter for Hopley (71). Not Used: Spencer.
Sin Bin: Downey (70).
Scarlets: Stoddart, Higgitt, King, G. Evans, M. Jacob, C. Thomas, Martens, I. Thomas, Owen, Meeuws, D. Jones, Day, N. Thomas, Easterby, Lyons, G. Thomas.
Replacements: Davies for Higgitt (54), S. Jones for C. Thomas (47), Roberts for Martens (51), Rees for Owen (47), John for Meeuws (67), G. Thomas for N. Thomas (47), Turnbull for G. Thomas (77).
Ref: Wayne Barnes (England).