Northampton tore apart a helpless Perpignan side to progress through to the Heineken Cup Final where they will meet Leinster in 21 May in Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.
Tries from Ben Foden and Jon Clarke, converted by Steven Myler, who also kicked three penalties, were enough for Northampton to beat Perpignan 23-7 at stadium:mk. The French side’s only try came on the stroke of half time as Guilhem Geirado crashed over, while Nicolas Laharrague converted.
Northampton had the first genuine attempt at taking lead on 14 minutes following a penalty on the Perpignan 22 metre line, however Myler’s effort drifted wide of the left upright. Saints fans did not have wait long before their side took the lead in stadium:mk however. Northampton broke the line and made their way up to the Perpignan try line before Foden was handed the ball and dived over. Myler converted from our wide on the right to add to the score.
The home side continued where they left off from the restart, Foden breaking the line before passing across infield to Chris Ashton however the England wing was tackled well just outside the 22 metre line.
Perpignan seemed able to win or use clean ball, and on their first meaningful attempt at an attack, 20 minutes into the match, the ball was easily knocked on, thus allowing the home side another spell of possession.
Again when Perpignan were granted use of the ball by Northampton the Catalan club were unable to utilise it. This time fly-half Laharrague attempted a subtle ship over the onrushing defence however the man that collected the ball was adjudged to be offside the referee George Clancy.
From the resulting penalty Myler, rather audaciously some may have felt, attempted his second penalty of the match, from just inside his own half. Any doubts were blown away as easily as Myler slotted the long range attempt which sailed clean through the posts to give his side a 10-0 lead.
Perpignan were beginning to be the architects of their own downfall as on 28 minutes Myler, brimming with confidence from his last kick, attempted another shot at goal from the half way line. Further out to the left wing, this kick fell well short, however in their haste to clear their lines Perpignan knocked the ball on just metres from their own line.
From the scrum that ensued Saints won another penalty. Myler kicked to the corner, the lineout was won, and seconds later Clarke was waltzing in under the posts for his side’s second try of the match. Myler converted and within 30 minutes of the referee starting the match some Saints fans could already sense their club were in their first Heineken Cup Final since 2000.
The pressure was beginning to tell as Julien Candelon lashed out in frustration following the restart forcing referee Clancy to send the French wing to the sin bin, meaning the side already under pressure would have to face the rest of the half a man light.
A man down, Perpignan could do little but concede a penalty on their own 22 metre line as another impending attack came their way. With the scores as they were, Northampton took full advantage and turned the screw even further as Myler slotted another penalty.
Knowing that a man light in the backs, they were unable to punch any major holes in the Saints back line, Perpignan sensed their only chance for the remainder of the half was to keep the ball in their forwards. This tactic paid dividends almost immediately as from a lineout the Perpignan pack bulldozed its way over the line for their first points of the match. When the players got to their feet Guirado was confirmed as the scorer.
As the half time whistle went Laharrague converted to keep his side interested, if not fully involved the second half, with the score at 20-7.
Northampton continued where they had left off as the second half began. Within a minute they were camped on the away side’s try line once again, and although their pressure did not yield another try on this occasion, the pressure, both physical and mental, that the Perpignan defence was under soon told as Myler was granted another shot at the posts following yet further infringement from the Catalan club. Myler obliged as he stretched his side’s lead yet further.
It seemed that Perpignan required a constant reminder that they were trailing, in the form of more points being piled on, before they sprung into action. Following Myler’s earlier penalty the French side’s pack finally rolled into action. It had been so productive in the first half and it almost had immediate affect yet again, however Northampton were able to drive the pack into touch and then win the lineout that followed to alleviate pressure.
Having finally gained a taste for possession Perpignan wanted to continue in this vain, and for the next ten minutes the men in their blue, red, yellow, and white harlequin checked shirts strung their best piece of play together, however once more, as they neared the Northampton try line, the green line of defence was again unbroken as they again kept the away side out before clearing their lines.
With just 12 minutes remaining possession and territory were as important as tries Northampton, as they led 23-7. However, this did not stop them steeling a lineout deep in Perpignan territory in an attempt to inflict yet more misery on their opponents. And although it did not lead to a score, what followed was another ten minutes of Northampton possession before Perpignan were eventually able to steel it back.
Once again the now hapless French club could do little with the ball when in Northampton’s half, and when the ball was lost and Ben Foden kicked the ball deep into the Perpignan half, fullback Jerome Porical was left with no support when he looked up to see himself hounded by three Northampton players. Like a rabbit caught in the headlights, much like his side had been for much of the match; he was easily pushed back over his own try line as the referee blew the final whistle.