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Saints battle to earn home advantage

Northampton secured a home tie in the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup with a comfortable victory over an under-strength Castres at Stade Pierre-Antoine yesterday evening.

Tries from man-of-the-match Joe Ansbro, Phil Dowson and Ben Foden ensured the Saints go through to the knock-out stage as one of the top four seeds, as well as recording a 100 per cent record in Pool One -- the first English team to do so since Bath in 2002. It did not take long for Saints to take the lead as, in the 10th minute, Roger Wilson picked out Ansbro and the Scotland international found some space down the right to race clear. Fly-half Stephen Myler missed the conversion.

The Saints extended their lead with a drop goal by Myler, and increased their advantage further thanks to Dowson's touch-down after Ansbro's surging run from deep -- Myler adding the extras for a 15-0 lead. The hosts got back in the game on the half-hour mark as Tillous-Borde's pass allowed Bernard to score Castres' first try, which the fly-half converted.

However the outcome was all but decided shortly before the hour when Foden raced clear to score Saints' third try of the game, although Myler was once again wide of the mark with the conversion. The Saints went further in front in the 72nd minute with a Myler penalty and the hosts were denied a second try when referee Peter Fitzgibbon ruled that Tillous-Borde had been held up, but the scrum-half did succeed seconds later when he crossed in the corner.

Scorers -- Castres: Bernard try, con; Tillous-Borde try Northampton: Ansbro, Dowson, Foden try each; Myler con, pen, d-g.

Castres: F Denos; M Nicolas, Y Audrin (R Martial 62), PM Garcia (S Bai 70), V Inigo; P Bernard, S Tillous-Borde; M Coetzee (A Peikrishvili 60), B Kayser (A Giorgadze 53), D Saayman (L Ducalcon 62); S Murray, R Capo; C Masoe (G Adamou 53), S Malonga (J Tekori 79), J Bornman.

Northampton: B Foden; J Ansbro, J Clarke, J Downey (B Reihana 68) P Diggin; S Myler (S Commins 78), R Powell (S Geraghty 78); S Tonga'uiha, D Hartley (B Sharman 68), B Mujati; C Clark, M Sorenson (C Day 56); P Dowson, T Wood (M Easter 66), R Wilson.

Referee: P Fitzgibbon (Ireland)

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