Castres survive late fightback to see off Saints
Northampton lost to Castres in the Heineken Cup for the second year running after being outclassed and outfought in Toulouse.
A George Pisi try was not enough for the Aviva Premiership leaders, as their French opposition edged to victory at the Stade Ernest Wallon.
After beating Glasgow 24-15 in the opening group match of their European campaign, Saints coach Jim Mallinder made only one change to his team with Ryan Lamb coming in for the injured James Wilson.
In contrast, Castres made 11 changes to their starting line-up after their crushing 41-17 defeat to Ulster at Ravenhill.
It was the home side who made the better start to the game, and their early pressure finally told when Romain Martial collected a high ball and fed Paul Bonnefond, who was on hand to take the ball over the line for the first try of the match.
Romain Teulet, who has over 3,000 points for Castres, then converted to give the home side a 7-0 lead within the opening 10 minutes.
Teulet took advantage of some undisciplined defending from Northampton and added three more points to Castres' score.
Almost straight from Teulet's restart, the Saints were awarded a penalty and Stephen Myler gave them their first points of the match.
Northampton sensed a vulnerability in the French side's defence and Myler kicked another penalty in front of the posts before Castres, who defeated Northampton 41-22 in last season's competition, hit back.
Rory Kockott took advantage of more lapses in Northampton's defending to convert another penalty and give the home side a 13-6 lead at the interval.
The Saints were immediately under pressure at the start of the second half, as Brian Mujati received a yellow card after gifting the home team a penalty for dragging a maul down.
Although Teulet missed the penalty, Castres put the Saints under relentless pressure due to their man advantage. Antonie Classen powered his way over the line for the try and although Kockott failed to convert, the lead now stood at 18-6.
The game looked over for the Saints, but a sloppy line-out from Castres handed Mallinder's men a lifeline.
Pisi took advantage of poor play from the home side, and dived over for the try. Myler converted the kick.
But Castres hit back and Remi Tales helped himself to a drop goal to give his side a 21-13 lead.
But the Saints continued to believe, and after a mistake by the Castres defence, Myler knocked over a penalty to bring his side to within one score of the home side. Northampton's late pressure was not enough, as Castres hung on.
Castres -- Teulet (Andreu 52); Martial, Bonnefond, Bai (Cabannes 66), Garvey; Tales (Kirkpatrick 74), Kockott; Lazar (Forestier 62), Mach (Rallier 68), Peikrishvili ( Coetzee 53), Tekori ( Rolland 59), Samson, Bornman, Faasalele (Wannenburg 78), Classen.
Northampton -- Myler, K Pisi, G Pisi, Waldouck (May 68), Artemyev, Lamb, Dickson (Roberts 66), Tonga'uiha (Waller 68), Hartley, Mujati (Doran-Jones 68), Manoa (Sorenson 66), Lawes, Dowson, Wood, Oakley (Van Velze 62)
REF -- A Rolland (Ireland).