Dan Biggar’s man-of the match performance guided Northampton Saints to an exceptional 25-14 win over Top14 leaders Lyon OU in this season’s Heineken Champions Cup opener.
Boosted by the return of their Rugby World Cup cohort, a dominant first-half performance capped by a wonderful score from Rory Hutchinson saw the men in Black, Green and Gold open up a commanding lead.
Lyon briefly threatened a comeback thanks to a second-half double from Thibaut Regard, but a flawless kicking display from returning Wales fly-half Biggar alongside a huge defensive effort from Saints’ forwards saw Chris Boyd’s side home.
Biggar laid down an early marker with a kick to the corner that had Lyon immediately on the back foot. He did not stop there as a perfectly-weighted pass out the back door minutes later opened a hole for Tom Collins to sprint into Lyon territory.
Two penalties in quick succession saw the Welshman put his side out to an early 6-0 lead, and while Lyon thought they had hit back against the run of play thanks to a Patricio Fernandez interception off Cobus Reinach, the TMO spotted a knock-on and the score was chalked off.
Then came the try that Saints’ earlier pressure warranted; after kicking a penalty into the 22, Biggar fed Rory Hutchinson with a beautiful tip-on ball, and with plenty still to do some fantastic footwork from the Scotland centre saw him wriggle his way through for the first try of the game.
Lyon so nearly hit back again following an interception from Charlie Ngatai. More good work-this time in defence-from Taqele Naiyaravoro and Hutchinson saw the latter clear the danger with an interception of his own.
It was then Reinach and Saints’ turn to have a score ruled out as the Springbok’s jinking run over the line from 25m out was called back for an earlier forward pass from Biggar. The following scrum did at least lead to a further three from the boot of the Welshman after a strong jackel from Lewis Ludlam.
The half ended with Reinach almost running the length following another interception, but Fernandez just about had enough gas to hunt him into touch.
Courtney Lawes showed off his pace early in the second half, tracking back to roll Josua Tuisova into touch inside the 22.
However Saints’ rear-guard action did prove costly after repeated infringements inside the 22 saw Harrison sent to the bin. Lyon went quickly with the penalty as Jonathan Wisniewski caught Saints napping out wide with a cross-field kick for Regard to score.
Calm heads prevailed from the hosts despite the pressure. Biggar took advantage of a high tackle from Patrick Sobela to wrest the momentum back through another three points, though some further help from the TMO was required though as Noa Nakaitaci’s score in the corner was ruled out for knock-on.
There was still time for Regard to barrel his way over for his second score of the afternoon just to keep the Franklin’s Gardens crowd on the edge of their seats, but a late scrum penalty inside the Lyon half put an end to any notion of a late revival.
Saints now head across to Treviso to face Benetton Rugby next weekend, hoping to consolidate their good start to the Champions Cup.