Tom Vickers’ Saints v Castres view and player ratings: Natives need to cut Saints some slack
There was a strange feeling around Franklin’s Gardens at full-time on Friday night.
Northampton had just won the game, 18-12, yet there was an absence of smiles on the faces of the home faithful.
It felt like Jim Mallinder’s men had suffered a defeat as a collective groan greeted the final whistle.
The Saints crowd had come expecting tries. What they got was plenty of huff and puff, but no reason to wave their arms around in ecstasy.
Stephen Myler and Ryan Lamb sealed the win from the tee, with three penalties apiece, as Castres’ creative scrum-half Rory Kockott replied with four efforts of his own.
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But the triumph was greeted more with calm content than celebration.
Saints had made it three home games on the spin without scoring a try as the Castres clash followed defeats to Ulster and Harlequins at the Gardens.
The natives continue to be restless as they want more bang from their buck.
Credit has to go to the 11,891 fans who turned out on a cold, foggy night at the Gardens.
It must be remembered it’s not cheap to support any professional sports team and the dedication of those who grace the stands, ignoring the option of watching on television - on which almost every Saints game seems to be - is laudable.
But the truth is their discontent at the recent lack of scores is being used against their side right now.
Castres came to stifle their hosts.
Though they may not be a Premiership side, it doesn’t mean they won’t have seen what’s been going on at the Gardens of late.
Stop Saints scoring early and you frustrate the home fans.
That in turn heaps pressure on the team as they aim to break down stubborn opposition.
And if the game plan works to perfection, you leave Northampton with a win to your name.
Castres never looked likely to leave with all four points, but they did show immense mental and physical strength when put under the cosh.
They defied the common belief that French sides are flaky on the road, buckling under any severe strain.
And they walked away with a deserved losing bonus points as Kockott struck a penalty to a backdrop of irritation late on.
Castres had got under the skin of Saints, but still the home side claimed the win.
For that they must be given credit.
If Mallinder’s men don’t now go on to qualify - and they will need a big slice of luck and a big win at Glasgow to get through - it will be down to what happened in France, not what happened on Friday.
On that night in rainy Toulouse, Castres played the conditions better against a Saints side severely missing Ben Foden.
Mallinder admitted after that his men may rue the loss of that game, which ended 21-16 in the French side’s favour, and he could well be right.
But Saints have done everything they could since that defeat and the one at home to Ulster to put things right.
And though the tries might not exactly be flowing, the shoots of recovery are there in terms of the results.
So the next time Saints turn out at the Gardens fans and players must work together to ruin the opposition’s game plan and bring audible satisfaction to the home dressing room and the stands.
Another assured game from the full-back, who combined well with James Wilson in a partnership that gave Saints some go-forward on the counter-attack... 7
Tried to inject some spark into Saints’ attacking play and his booming boot was a useful weapon in gaining territory... 7
The tries haven’t been flowing for the happy-go-luck centre of late and he’s just struggling to find the same level of creativity he had earlier in the season... 6
Wasn’t at the level of six days earlier, when he was a contender for man of the match at Exeter. Another robust display, but little invention... 6
Didn’t see much of the diminuitive wing, who was kept quiet by Castres. Like his fellow Saints backs, couldn’t find a way past the French team’s unflappable defence... 5
Another extremely sound kicking display kept the scoreboard ticking over and his tactical kicking is improving with every game... 7
Not the greatest of nights for the talented scrum-half, who continually opted to box kick early on rather than keeping the ball in hand... 5
Came so close to a try in the first half as he showed signs of the Soane Tonga’uiha of old, breaking the line and barrelling his way towards the whitewash... 7
Led by example with a powerful display against an extremely physical Castres pack, who didn’t give the Saints an inch up front... 7
Another good display from the England Saxons man, who is really staking his claim for the tighthead role with Brian Mujati off to France this summer... 7
Not a man you’d like to meet down a dark alley, the American powerhouse formed a superb second row partnership with Courtney Lawes. The Bruise Brothers were at full power... 8
COURTNEY LAWES - CHRON MAN OF THE MATCH
Easily his best display of the season so far. The England man re-stated his international credentials with a superb showing in which he was everywhere... 9
Continued to show why he has been handed a call-up to England’s Six Nations squad with a determined display in the back row... 7
Played his part in a fine set-piece showing from Saints, which saw them leave the Castres lineout in tatters early on... 6
The versatile back row did well at No.8 and a couple of clever surges caused Castres some problems during the first half... 6
Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)
Brought on in a bid to add creativity to the Saints attacking game, but almost cost them a try with one wayward pass. Kicked his penalties well... 6
Came on for Paul Doran-Jones as Jim Mallinder looked to freshen things up in the scrum and the tighthead didn’t let his boss down... 6