Northampton Saints 28 Castres 21: Tom Vickers' review and player ratings
If Saturday's game against Castres didn't really matter, no one told the Saints players.
Because aside from a sluggish spell at the start of the second half, Jim Mallinder’s men poured everything they had into this Champions Cup clash.
Revenge wasn’t quite as sweet as it would have been had Saints still had a chance of progressing from Pool 4.
But you felt it was significant that, if only to display how far they have come, the team managed to avenge October’s 41-7 shocker at Stade Pierre Antoine.
Saints might not have been supremely slick during recent wins, but they have shown the character and composure every team needs.
While the game against Sale Sharks a few weeks back was largely comfortable, they were pushed all the way by Gloucester, Bristol and Castres.
But when it mattered, in the final 10 minutes of the match, Saints have prevailed.
They have shown steely desire and a calm heads to ensure they can now head to Montpellier in a much better mental place.
The drubbing in Dublin could have had severe consequences, but instead it appears to have galvanised Mallinder’s men.
They are still not playing the Champagne rugby some expect, but there was certainly more fizz about them in the games against Bristol and Castres.
The French team refused to fold at Franklin’s Gardens, roaring back from a 21-8 half-time deficit to level at 21-21 all.
But Saints showed their resolve, with skipper Tom Wood, who has embodied what this team has been all about in recent weeks, the fitting match-winner.
Wood has led his team-mates out of what he recently described as a ‘dark place’ and his consistency in a team that have lacked that quality has been nothing short of outstanding.
Teimana Harrison has stepped up in recent weeks, bringing added dynamism to a brilliant back row.
And with Louis Picamoles the player of the season so far, there is so much strength at Saints’ disposal.
There is no doubt the scrum could have been stronger against Castres, who got the upper hand in that area.
And Saints still missed several chances, especially when the French team were reduced to 14 men during the first period.
There were also defensive lapses and a lack of discipline when Castres started to turn up the heat after the break, but Saints battled to turn the tide.
It was a microcosm of how they have bounced back from four successive defeats and even if the necessary style isn’t always there, the steel certainly is.
And, crucially, the results are coming, with bonus-point wins accrued in the past two weeks.
Saints still boast a 100 per cent record in 2017 and that will come under threat in Montpellier on Friday night.
But if they can show the same pride and passion as they did against Castres, supporters will be as satisfied as they were at the final whistle on Saturday.
And in these weeks of seemingly inconsequential matches, that is all you can really ask for.
How they rated...
The full-back had a mixed start to the game but got into his stride and one dazzling run saw him roll back the years... 6
Made a great saving tackle to stop a Castres charge during the second half and the wing did little wrong... 6
Had a tricky first half, missing a tackle in the build-up to a Castres try, but he bounced back well, with one hit a real highlight... 6
Had been so impressive off the bench during the previous two weeks and although he wasn’t quite as influential here, he still did enough... 6
Desperately tried to get into the action, making more metres than any of his team-mates... 7
Managed to grab his first try of the season and was unlucky with a nice drop goal attempt in a lively game... 7
The scrum-half continues to improve in Saints colours, but he had to make do with some slow ball at times in this game... 6
Castres took Saints on in the scrum, but the prop contributed plenty around the field, putting in another tireless shift... 6
Another dynamic display from the hooker, who stood up to the physicality of the French team... 7
A big game from the prop, who came in at late notice and proceeded to produce an energetic display, making more tackles than any other Saints player... 7
Joint-top of the carries chart alongside Teimana Harrison and also played a huge role in the lineout, disrupting Castres at every opportunity... 8
An important figure in the lineout as ever before being taken off after with 30 minutes still to play... 6
TOM WOOD - CHRON STAR MAN
What more can be said about the skipper? He continues to drive this team forward week after week and he grabbed the winning try here... 8
Made a couple of decent surges into enemy territory and he continued his good form in this game... 7
A huge showing from the back row forward, who grabbed two tries and always looks so dangerous when he is given space at No.8... 8
Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)
JAMES CRAIG (for Day 50)
Helped Saints to get over the line after Castres mounted a comeback and will hope to get more first-team action in the coming weeks... 6
AHSEE TUALA (for Estelles 50)
Showed some tidy footwork at times, sidestepping a couple of Castres defenders and enjoying the roar of the home crowd... 6