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Match Report: Northampton Saints 61 – 14 Aviron Bayonnais

Tom Pearson recorded a brilliant hat-trick as Northampton Saints stormed their way into the Investec Champions Cup knockout stages with an emphatic 61-14 Friday night victory over Bayonne.

Phil Dowson’s side scored more than a point a minute in the first half at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens as Pearson crossed the line twice and Curtis Langdon, Alex Waller, Tommy Freeman and Courtney Lawes  all bagged five pointers, with Fin Smith landing all six conversions.

Bayonne, competing in Europe’s elite competition for the first time ever this season, managed some consolation in the second half through Tom Spring and Aurélien Florian Callandret tries but they were mixed in with three more for Saints as Pearson and Waller added to their first-half efforts and Tom James landed the hosts’ ninth try with Smith adding two more successful kicks for a personal points tally of 16.

FIRST HALF

Saints signalled their early intent by running a Bayonne kick back and didn’t surrender possession in the build-up to the game’s first score. The ball was worked down the blindside where Rory Hutchinson, fresh from his match-winning heroics at Sandy Park a week previously, skilfully chipped infield with the outside of his boot for Freeman to use every inch of his 6ft 3in frame to pull the ball in with his finger tips to ground with barely a minute played. Smith knocked over the extras.

Cheers sounded out around the Gardens when the home side appeared to double their lead when Langdon poached from a metre out, only for a lengthy TMO intervention to rule it out for an Alex Mitchell knock on in the build-up. Moments later, another inventive Hutchinson kick bounced agonisingly away from Sam Graham and to safety.

The second score Saints threatened arrived on 14 minutes and it came from a Bayonne lineout throw five metres from their own goalline. Alex Coles read a lob to the tail, leaping brilliantly to slap down the ball one handed straight into the arms of Pearson to open his Champions Cup point-scoring account.

Bayonne’s hopes of stemming an incessant tide of Black, Green and Gold pressure were not helped when prop Tevita Tatafu saw yellow for a tip tackle on Graham. Smith went for the corner and Pearson carried hard up the middle, only for Mitchell to spill forward in the act of reaching for the line.

There was no mistake on the 20-minute mark, however, as Freeman glided his way into the 22 and upon the recycle, Hutchinson fed Pearson to burst through Thomas Dolhagaray’s tackle and grounded for his second of the evening with Smith landing his third successful kick.

There was a glimmer of hope for the Top 14 opponents when veteran scrum-half Maxime Machenaud intercepted a pass only to be comfortably caught. Lawes won a breakdown penalty then was on hand to gather Mitchell’s pass and cross for his second try of the season.

The foot remained firmly on the throat of those sky blue shirts and white shirts as the front row got in on the tryscoring act. Langdon finished an unstoppable rolling maul for his sixth try since joining the Club last summer, before Waller celebrated his 368th Saints appearance with a 26th try after he tapped a five-metre penalty and worked his way over. Smith made it six from six conversion to put Saints 42-0 up at the break.

SECOND HALF

Saints started the second half as they did the first, attacking at every opportunity. Pearson completed his hat-trick after finishing a one-two exchange with Freeman after Smith’s grubber found space, then Waller got his second when he powered over from close range. Smith converted one of the pair to move his side 54 points ahead.

Bayonne then enjoyed their best spell of the match as Machenaud was denied a try by James’ excellent intervention over the goalline, but with 15 minutes remaining, there was no stopping Spring as he stepped his way through a gap, with Dolhagaray converting.

Normal business resumed when Furbank mesmerised a tiring defence on the drift, allowing Juarno Augustus to feed James to dot down under the posts, presenting Smith with his easiest kick of the evening to break the 60-point barrier.

Hopes of Saints securing a biggest-ever win in this competition were ended when Callandret gathered Macheneaud’s kick to land the game’s final points.

But it was Northampton who booked their place in the Round of 16 with a third successive bonus-point win – and eighth-straight success in all competitons – that puts them in pole position to bring that knock-out match back to the Gardens in early April.

SAINTS: 15 George Furbank (c), 14 Tommy Freeman, 13 Fraser Dingwall, 12 Rory Hutchinson, 11 Ollie Sleightholme, 10 Fin Smith, 9 Alex Mitchell; 1 Alex Waller, 2 Curtis Langdon, 3 Trevor Davison, 4 Temo Mayanavanua, 5 Alex Coles, 6 Courtney Lawes, 7 Tom Pearson, 8 Sam Graham.
Replacements: 16 Sam Matavesi, 17 Emmanuel Iyogun, 18 Elliot Millar Mills, 19 Alex Moon, 20 Juarno Augustus, 21 Angus Scott-Young, 22 Tom James, 23 Tom Litchfield.

BAYONNE: 15 Aurélien Florian Callandret, 14 Nadir Megdoud, 13 Cheikh Tiberghien, 12 Eneriko Buliruarua, 11 Remy Baget, 10 Thomas Dolhagaray, 9 Maxime Machenaud; 1 Swan Cormenier, 2 Facundo Bosch, 3 Tevita Tatafu, 4 Denis Marchois (c), 5 Manuel Leindekar, 6 Rémi Bourdeau, 7 Baptiste Heguy, 8 Rodrigo Bruni.
Replacements: 16 Vincent Giudicelli, 17 Mathis Perchaud, 18 Pascal Cotet, 19 Lucas Paulos, 20 Uzair Cassiem, 21 Kléo Labarbe, 22 Tom Spring, 23 Yan Lestrade.

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