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Saints 14 – 45 Racing 92: Northampton fall to defeat in European opener

Northampton Saints were beaten by a rampant Racing 92 side in their opening Heineken Champions Cup clash at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens on Friday evening.

The visitors had opened up an imposing 28-7 lead at half-time, with Juan Imhoff crossing twice to add to a try from Wenceslas Lauret and three Maxime Machenaud penalties – although Courtnall Skosan finished off a good Saints move to give his side hope.

But Racing did not take their foot off the gas in the second half, with Lauret adding two tries to his tally to complete at hat-trick, meaning Fraser Dingwall’s score was no more than a consolation for the men in Black, Green and Gold.

Racing quickly opened up a 6-0 lead as Machenaud knocked over two easy penalties with Northampton pinged for a high tackle and then for offside.

And Saints’ task got even sterner in the seventh minute, as a slick backs move involving Finn Russell and Kurtley Beale sent Lauret through a gap to cross just right of the posts – with Machenaud making no mistake with the extras and then adding another three points with Northampton offside again to make it 16-0.

The hosts made a couple of forays into the Racing 22 before the 20-minute mark, but the Top14 side were dogged in defence and repelled a Saints lineout and scrum from five metres out.

Russell was at the centre of another sharp Racing try in the 23rd minute, stepping inside to release Imhoff through a gap who shook off the guard and raced under the posts, with Machenaud’s conversion taking the scoreline to 23-0.

Saints drew some blood after 29 minutes as Lewis Ludlam burst down the left; his offload found Dingwall and the centre’s grubber-kick was inch perfect for Skosan to win the footrace and score.

Dan Biggar’s conversion was good to reduce the deficit to 23-7, but four minutes before the break the quality of the Racing backline told again as Russell’s looping pass over the top bypassed Saints’ midfield to find Beale, who put Imhoff in for his second – with the experienced Argentine international finishing off under pressure from Tommy Freeman.

Already 28-7 to the good, Racing picked up where they left off at the start of the second half, with Russell dropping his shoulder and beating a defender before offloading to the onrushing Lauret for the flanker to cross for his second of the night.

Saints then lost both Biggar and Matt Proctor to injury, but hit back on 47 minutes with Dingwall crashing over through Russell’s tackle after Northampton built phase after phase inside the 22 – and George Furbank, now at fly-half, took over kicking duties to land the conversion.

Another penalty for offside allowed Machenaut to stretch the lead out to 38-14 with 20 minutes to play, and Gael Fickou powered through the middle four minutes later before two offloads allowed Lauret to finish off his hat-trick.

Ludlam charged through two tackles to score with ten minutes left, but the try was chalked off by the TMO with replacement Ollie Sleightholme adjudged to have obstructed a defender in the build-up.

Saints will dust themselves off and head to Belfast next week to face Ulster in the second round of this season’s Champions Cup competition.

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