Northampton picked up their first Champions Cup win this season with an outstanding bonus-point victory over Top 14 champions ASM Clermont Auvergne.
It was the first time Northampton’s history that they had won against their French opposition in five attempts, avenging a defeat in France earlier this season.
Both Saints and Clermont scored some superb tries, with Teimana Harrison and Nafi Tuitavake crossing in the first half for the home side, and Ben Foden, Ken Pisi and Cobus Reinach in the second in what was a fantastic exhibition of rugby at Franklin’s Gardens.
🎥 Highlights. Enjoy!pic.twitter.com/pi6Ygd68yf
— Northampton Saints (@SaintsRugby) January 14, 2018
Clermont made the most of a perfect start, as Saints’ tackles weren’t enough to stop Reme Grosso from stretching past Ahsee Tuala and scoring the first try of the night inside the first two minutes.
Both sides put in heroic efforts in their search for the next score, with end-to-end play bringing Saints close to the line on several occasions.
And eventually they got over the whitewash, with Api Ratuniyarawa blasting his way through the French defence, before Tom Wood’s long pass to Harrison allowed him to fly over in the corner.
Harry Mallinder was then given two shots at the conversion as George Clancy – who referred last season’s Champions Cup play-off game against Stade Francais – judged the Clermont players to have charged his kick too early, but he hit the post on the second attempt.
Clermont replied almost instantly with superb offloading allowing Isaiah Toeava to sprint for the line for their second try of the night, pushing the side 12-5 ahead.
The visitors then came close again, Tom Stephenson – on his 50th appearance for Saints – preventing a score from a grubber-kick, but Clermont extended their lead to ten points at the half-hour mark thanks to Morgan Parra’s penalty.
But replacement Tuitavake scored a superb try when he tip-toed through the Clermont back line after latching onto Foden’s chip in what was becoming a very back-and-forth match, with Mallinder again unlucky to see his conversion attempt hit the post.
Saints very nearly scored in the opening minute of the second half, with Stephenson and Tuitavake both coming close, but Northampton settled for a penalty and Mallinder closed the gap to just two points yet again.
And soon after they took the lead for the first time in the match when Foden collected a French knock on and darted through Clermont’s left flank from deep inside his own half.
But following a second successful penalty from Parra, it was this time Clermont who closed the lead to two points, with less than 30 minutes to play.
A wonderful run by Clermont down the right wing was halted by Clancy for a forward pass, but the momentum was with the French, and a third three-pointer for Parra gave his side the lead heading into the final quarter of the game.
A massive fend from Rob Horne wasn’t enough to score a try, but Saints were deep in Clermont’s 22 and they weren’t looking to leave without some points for their efforts.
Pisi then secured the bonus point for Northampton when he stretched out of the ruck for the line, to push Saints 27-21 ahead with 15 minutes to play; Clermont’s defence was on the back foot.
And Reinach made it five tries for Saints after his dive through the cluster of Clermont players reached the line to send his side 34-21 ahead; sending the raucous fans inside the Gardens into ecstasy and sealing an historic European victory.
SAINTS: Tuala; Pisi, Horne, Stephenson, Foden; Mallinder, Groom; Ma’afu, Hartley (capt), Brookes, Ratuniyarawa, Day, Lawes, Wood, Harrison
Replacements: Haywood, van Wyk, Ford-Robinson, Paterson, Eadie, Reinach, Grayson, Tuitavake
CLERMONT: Toeava; Abendanon, Betham, Lamerat, Grosso; McAlister, Parra (capt); Falgoux, Kayser, Slimani, Van Der Merwe, Vahaamahina, Chouly, Lapandry, Lee
Replacements: Beheregaray, Chaume, Zirakashvili, Jedrasiak, Itturia, Trussardi, Spedding, Kolelishvili
2’ CLERMONT Try Grosso, Conversion Parra 0-7
13’ SAINTS Try Harrison 5-7
16’ CLERMONT Try Toeava 5-12
30’ CLERMONT Penalty Parra 5-15
32’ SAINTS Try Tuitavake 10-15
HALF-TIME Saints 10-15 Clermont
42’ SAINTS Penalty Mallinder 13-15
44’ SAINTS Try Foden, Conversion Mallinder 20-15
50’ CLERMONT Penalty Parra 20-18
57’ CLERMONT Penalty Parra 20-21
64’ SAINTS Try Pisi, Conversion Mallinder 27-21
73’ SAINTS Try Reinach, Conversion Mallinder 34-21
FULL-TIME Saints 34-21 Clermont