Northampton Saints 34 Clermont Auvergne 21: Tom Vickers' review and player ratings

Maybe the Champions Cup isn't that bad after all.

Sunday, 14th January 2018, 7:02 pm
Updated Sunday, 14th January 2018, 7:36 pm
Api Ratuniyarawa produced a huge performance for Saints against Clermont (picture: Dave Ikin)

Saints finally savoured the sweet taste of success in the competition on Saturday evening.

And what a success it was.

The reinvigorated green, black and gold swatted aside a Clermont team who had won all four of their Pool 2 matches.

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Saints had lost all of theirs, including the clash between the sides at Stade Marcel Michelin back in October.

But, boosted by their Aviva Premiership victory against Gloucester seven days earlier, they ripped up the form book in fantastic fashion.

Saints scored five tries on the day, with each one worthy of acclaim.

From Nafi Tuitavake's slalom to the line to Ben Foden's blitz from inside his own half, the Franklin's Gardens faithful had real reason to rise to their feet.

Just as against Gloucester, there was a great atmosphere at the Gardens.

The supporters are liking the look of 2018.

Saints have won both matches this year, having lost 12 of their final 13 games in 2017.

The arrival of Alan Gaffney as coaching consultant has lifted confidence levels through the roof.

And now Saints are starting to rediscover the stylish play they showcased in September, when they won four successive matches.

The win against Clermont was their best of the campaign so far.

And it was made all the more impressive by the fact they had nothing to play for.

Saints can't progress in the competition, but they know they must progress during the remainder of the season as a whole.

And how far they have come during the past couple of weeks.

They added skill to the pure spirit they showed against Gloucester, making them a formidable force.

And Clermont just could not get away from their hosts.

When the French champions scored in the first minute, the natural instinct was to fear for Saints.

Yes, they had beaten Gloucester, but many matches prior to that had seen them concede and then crumble.

Not this year though.

Saints have stuck together, stayed strong and battled back from adversity.

And how proud the fans are of their players after this latest display of courage.

The squad are playing for the shirt, restoring pride in Northampton colours.

Not only that, but they are starting to look more like themselves again, with Gaffney and interim head coach Alan Dickens giving them the freedom to play.

In defence, they are now far more resilient.

And up front, they have started to make a few improvements.

Against Clermont, it all came together.

And how enjoyable it was, with no late nerves this time as Saints made the game safe through Cobus Reinach's score.

Chances of making into the Champions Cup last eight may have gone up in smoke long ago, but momentum is the buzzword at the Gardens right now.

There is still plenty to play for in the Premiership and the Anglo-Welsh Cup.

And if Saints can maintain this performance level in the weeks and months to come, they could just be gracing the Champions Cup again next season.

How they rated...


Was forced off early on due to a head injury and the resuffle actually didn't work against Saints with Tuitavake and Foden going on to play starring roles... 6


Has been impressive during the past couple of weeks and etched his name on the scoresheet again here... 8


A picture of desire, the Australian centre used his physicality to cause Clermont real problems throughout and he topped the carries chart along with Ratuniyarawa... 9


What an impact this young man has made during the past couple of weeks, starring in a cameo against Gloucester and looking full of strength and skill here... 8


The 32-year-old rolled back the years with a fantastic display that included an assist for Tuitavake's try and a score of his own that had the home fans on their feet... 9


Controlled the game well for Saints and he landed some tough kicks from the tee, missing a couple of easier efforts... 8


Plenty of tempo from the scrum-half, who enjoyed the amount of quick ball he was given by the forwards... 7


Looks so strong in open play, making plenty of big hits and although it wasn't an easy battle at the scrum, he can take credit from this performance... 7


The captain led from the front with a powerful display that also helped to keep his team-mates calm when they were behind... 7


A big performance from the prop who put in plenty of effort around the park and competed well against the French giants... 7


What a display from the Fijian lock who relentlessly pushed Clermont back, blasting holes in the French defence while also showcasing his trademark offloading game... 9


The experienced second row forward still has so much to offer and his knowledge of the game was key here... 8


Was a menace at the lineout, stealing some possession from Clermont, and he impressed around the field once again... 8


Will have enjoyed this as he got stuck into the pool leaders time and again, helping to put his team on the front foot by topping the Saints tackle count... 8


Another huge display from the No.8 whose stats were once again impressive as he featured in the top three for carries, metres made and tackles made... 9

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

NAFI TUITAVAKE (for Tuala 29)

Used his snake hips to great effect, weaving his way through Clermont to score a key try for Saints... 8