Northampton Saints came back from a 12-point half-time deficit to win 36-24 at Matmut Stadium de Gerland in Lyon, keeping their hopes of progressing to the quarter-finals of the Heineken Champions Cup alive.
Tries from Mikey Haywood, Teimana Harrison, Cobus Reinach, George Furbank and James Fish were enough to seal the bonus point win and keep the pressure on Saracens and Gloucester who both play on Sunday.
The win, the Club’s first on French soil since January 2011, sees Saints finish second in Pool 1 on 19 points, nine behind Leinster who had already qualified for a home quarter-final.
After a cagey first quarter of an hour, riddled with handling errors from both sides, it was Saints who struck first. The visitors capitalised on the numerical advantage left by tighthead prop, Francisco Gomez Kodela – who had moments earlier been yellow carded for pulling down Saints’ lineout – to bundle over from short range. It was a lineout move seen so many times already this season – collected in the air by Lewis Ludlam and finished off by Haywood at the back of a rumbling maul. Surprisingly Dan Biggar’s conversion attempt faded wide, his first miss in 24 attempts this season.
With both teams still searching for some fluency, the hosts soon hit back through French international second row Felix Lambey. The lock collected an offload from Sam Hidalgo-Clyne and scrambled over from five yards to reach out and touch the ball down. Jonathan Wisniewski converted to push the hosts’ noses in front.
Lyon then extended their lead further when No.8 Liam Gill scored under the posts after his quick tap-and-go from just five metres out caught the Saints defence by surprise.
Just before half-time a Wisniewski penalty increased the lead further to leave Chris Boyd’s men with a mountain to climb.
After the break, it was Saints who started the brightest. And when Biggar kicked to within five metres thanks to a well-earned scrum penalty, Saints made the hosts pay with another successful lineout drive. Harrison eventually muscled his way over to touch down and keep Saints in the hunt. Biggar converted to bring them back to five behind and Saints dared to dream again.
On 50 minutes Josua Tuisova – who had troubled Saints defence all afternoon – limped off, in what seemed to be a crucial moment in the second half to keep the momentum shifting Saints’ way.
Harrison then missed an opportunity to score his second out wide, but referee Dan Jones brought play back for an earlier infringement and Biggar added three more points to the tally.
Saints then delivered a special moment when Biggar spotted space in the back field and kicked the ball forward for Reinach to chase. The South African scrum-half outpaced two defenders to meet the ball first and grubber through to eventually collect for himself and touch down to take the lead.
But just minutes later, Lyon were back in front as Charlie Ngatai skated through the Saints defence to score.
Saints refused to lie down and with Lyon looking weary, Biggar switched play off the back of a ruck to feed the ball inside to Furbank who sliced the Lyon defence wide open just outside the twenty-two. The try still needed some finishing and the young fullback was up to the challenge as he coasted around the last Lyon defender to touch down.
With the game opening up, it was James Fish who sealed victory as he charged over from close range, ensured Saints would earn a memorable away win.