Northampton Saints opened their Heineken Champions Cup campaign with a disappointing 46 – 12 defeat to the reigning champions Stade Rochelais.
The men in Black, Green and Gold were slow out of the blocks at a misty and freezing Stade Marcel-Deflandre and failed to fire a shot in the first half as their hosts romped to a 32 – 0 lead at the break.
And though Saints regrouped some in the second 40 minutes, putting scores of their own on the board through James Ramm and Matt Proctor, their hosts had already done more than enough to take victory in the opening round.
It took the hosts just three minutes to open their account when Brice Dulin collected his own chip into Saints’ 22 to touch down in the corner.
Despite some good phase play from Saints, the European champions struck again six minutes later; when David Ribbans was penalised for being off his feet at the breakdown, Hastoy took his chance to add three points from his boot.
Saints’ ill-discipline continued and the men in Black, Green and Gold were again penalised as Lewis Ludlam’s no armed tackle was spotted by referee Andrew Brace. Hastoy took his opportunity to increase the lead from the tee to make it 11-0.
Saints’ efforts to try and get a foothold in the game were dealt another blow as hooker Robbie Smith was penalised for a dangerous tackle. The hosts kicked to corner for a catch and drive and Piere Bourgarit rumbled over to score in the corner.
By now it was one way traffic, and as Saints continued to give away penalties Hastoy went to the corner again. Stade Rochelais’ maul got going again and this time it was Pierre Boudehent who crashed over on the left wing.
Hastoy’s conversion from the tee made it 25 – 0 and though the hosts had Jonathan Danty sent to the sin bin on the hour mark for a trip on Freeman, Saints could not take advantage for their extra man and instead lost Aaron Hinkley to a yellow card for repeated infringements.
Stade Rochelais had time for another killer blow before the break as they sent Dillyn Leyds over on the stroke of half-time to send the game into the break 32 – 0 in the hosts’ favour.
It was again the hosts who struck first after the turn around, with Tawera Kerr-Barlow charging down Alex Mitchell’s clearing box kick and Stade’s captain Gregory Alldritt collecting the loose ball for the hosts’ fifth try of the game.
And the hosts’ lead was soon up to 46 — 0 as Ulupano Seuteni collected Hastoy’s crossfield kick, with the centre showing some quick feet to jink through and score.
Northampton thought they had their first points of the match on the hour mark when Sam Matavesi stretched over to score but the hooker was adjudged to have knocked on and Saints’ search for points continued.
Some reprieve came for Saints at 67 minutes as Thomas Lavault was shown a yellow card for the home side’s repeated infringements and Saints wasted no time in making the most of their extra man, working up into the home 22 and enjoying a period of sustained pressure at the scrum. And their reward eventually came in Ramm’s score out wide, as Fin Smith sent a looping pass over to the Australian winger in space.
Saints’ best period of play would follow, with the side putting together a sweeping move from within their own half which saw them put the ball through the hands swiftly and ended in Matt Proctor flying through Stade’s last men to score just right of the posts.
Despite Northampton’s best efforts that is where the scoreline would stay as the final whistle blew in La Rochelle and Saints will have no time to rest on their laurels as Munster Rugby come to Town next weekend for Round 2 of the competition.