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Clermont Auvergne 61 – 38 Saints: Northampton’s Euro dream ends at ASM

Northampton Saints’ European Challenge Cup run ended at the quarter-final stage, after a remarkable second half in Clermont that saw each side score five tries.

The hosts put themselves out in front thanks to three quick-fire tries in a ten-minute spell midway through the first half, with Dan Biggar’s penalty all Saints could conjure in return.

But Chris Boyd’s side came roaring back into the contest with four sensational scores within ten minutes bringing them within touching distance, although Clermont flexed their muscles in the latter stages to close out the game.

Northampton got off to a slow start; the hosts winning the ball from the kick off, and with Saints swiftly pinged by referee George Clancy, Morgan Parra struck a kick through the posts to make it 3-0.

Dan Biggar’s kick to touch then took his side deep into Clermont territory, but despite making a break for the whitewash off the resulting lineout, Northampton were held up just short.

But Taqele Naiyaravoro burst into life just after, keeping a clearing kick in play before beating a player and offloading to Cobus Reinach on his shoulder, but the scrum-half was brilliantly held up over the line by Peceli Yato.

A penalty from the resulting scrum however allowed Biggar to level the scores with ten minutes played.

Saints then built the phases nicely and worked the ball back up the field, but Teimana Harrison was bundled into touch and from there the hosts proved unstoppable over a ten-minute blitz.

First Alivereti Raka found Peter Betham who streaked clear to score, despite Harrison’s valiant attempt at a tap tackle to score in the corner, although Parra was wide with his conversion.

Saints then built a promising attacking platform but a loose pass fell into no man's land and Damian Penaud scooped up the ball to run in ASM's second – with Parra this time on target.

And the visitors then had a mountain to climb when referee Clancy adjudged Naiyaravoro to have tackled Arthur Iturria without his arms; a penalty try and a yellow card were awarded taking the scoreline to 22-3.

Northampton steadied the ship impressively while a man down until half-time, but they could not make any inroads into the scoreline before the break.

Parra started off the second half in similar fashion to the first with an early penalty, and Clermont scored another shortly after Camille Lopez released Penaud with a cross-field kick and Betham charged into the corner.

Boyd rang the changes with Alex Mitchell, Luther Burrell, Heinrich Brüssow, Jamie Gibson and Ahsee Tuala entering the fray – and the side responded in style with a wonderful team try as Collins dashed down the right and Tuala finished off the score.

Not to be outdone Clermont scored again straight from the restart, with Penaud grabbing his second of the evening after weaving his way through a gap.

But Saints bit back soon after; Alex Mitchell taking a quick penalty and finding Hutchinson who jinked inside to send Burrell under the sticks – Hutchinson drop-kicked the conversion to take the scoreline to 37-17.

And Northampton were right back in it as they flung the ball from left to right and several slick offloads from Gibson and Tuala released Mitchell under the posts.

Boyd’s side were on fire and another fabulous try brought them back within a score – Burrell got his head down and smashed through the midfield to offload to Hutchinson, who burned off the cover before converting to make it 37-31.

However a penalty at the breakdown checked Saints’ momentum as Greig Laidlaw took the hosts out of striking distance – and when a Saints lineout went astray shortly after, Raka thumped it upfield where Tim Nanai-Williams finished to knock the wind out of the visitors’ sails.

With the game now out of reach, Betham and Penaud added some gloss to the result for Clermont in the final few minutes, with Saints' attentions now turning to a vital Gallagher Premiership clash against Gloucester Rugby next Sunday at Franklin's Gardens.

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