Saints hopes hang in balance

  • Last Updated: January 12 2014, 17:23 GMT

A review of the weekend's action in the Heineken Cup, including a victory for Northampton and a defeat for Saracens.

George North celebrates a try for Northampton
George North celebrates a try for Northampton

George North marked his return to Wales in Northampton colours by scoring a brilliant breakaway try, but Saints' Heineken Cup quarter-final hopes were still dealt a major blow.

The juggernaut Wales international wing pounced two minutes after half-time, sprinting 70 metres to score when Saints snaffled turnover ball, and there was no way back for an Ospreys side outgunned up front as they lost 29-17.

Stephen Myler celebrated his call-up to England's RBS 6 Nations squad by kicking four penalties, while centre George Pisi and substitute Glenn Dickson claimed late touchdowns in the 29-17 success, but Pool One rivals Leinster's victory over Castres in France means they are set to top the group.

Northampton are still clinging to last-eight hopes, but realisticallly they will require a bonus-point triumph at home against Castres next Friday night and then have to rely on other results.

Saints' Liberty Stadium triumph - the eliminated Ospreys replied with Rhys Webb and Alun-Wyn Jones tries, plus a Dan Biggar penalty and two conversions - owed everything to their set-piece dominance.

But a crushing home loss to Leinster last month is set to prove the pivotal result in terms of Northampton's quarter-final ambitions.

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Leinster came from 14-0 down to claim a 29-22 success over Castres in France.

The Irish province needed the victory with Northampton also winning meaning success over the Ospreys at home will see them qualify as group winners.

Castres made a flying start with converted tries from Richie Gray and Brice Dublin putting the Top 14 club in control, although the three-time winners hit back.

Jimmy Gopperth scored a brace for the visitors, his second coming just before half-time cutting Castres' advantage to just 17-12.

The second half belonged to Leinster with three penalties from Gopperth turning the contest around. Jordi Murphy's late try settled the outcome, but there was still time for Remi Lamerat to cross the whitewash for a consolation.

Saracens saw their hopes of topping Pool 3 all but ended in south-west France as they were beaten 21-11 by Toulouse in Sunday's other game.

An early try from Chris Ashton and two penalties from Owen Farrell kept them in the hunt at the Stade Ernest Wallon but Toulouse will win the group unless they slip to a shock defeat at Zebre next week.

Sarries' scramble defence was outstanding in limiting Toulouse to seven Jean-Marc Doussain penalties but the French giants were far more threatening throughout as the likes of Hosea Gear and Yohan Huget cut loose at regular intervals.

Toulouse are guaranteed a place in the last eight but are still unsure of top spot in the pool, while Mark McCall's men will also be confident of joining them in the knockout stages when they host Connacht next week.

On Saturday, Leicester ensured quarter-final qualification remains in their own hands as they picked up maximum points at Benetton Treviso.

The Aviva Premiership champions were made to work hard for a fourth straight win in Pool 5 but they turned a 13-8 half-time deficit into a 34-19 success at the Stadio di Monigo.

A brace of Miles Benjamin tries were accompanied by an early effort from Julian Salvi and a penalty score, with Owen Williams adding a penalty and David Mele kicking three penalties and a conversion to set up a mouth-watering clash with pool leaders Ulster at Welford Road next week.

Matt Berquist contributed 14 points for Treviso, with prop Lorenzo Cittadini claiming their solitary first-half try.

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Sitiveni Sivivatu's late try halted Harlequins' recovery in its tracks as Clermont Auvergne clinched a 16-13 victory at the Stoop.

Clermont fly-half Brock James failed to convert the Kiwi flyer's 72nd-minute score but the Australian landed a late penalty to seal victory for the French giants and end Quins' hopes of reaching the knock-out stages.

Danny Care's moment of magic in the first half had inspired Quins to a 13-3 lead at the break, at that stage sustaining the Londoners' hopes of becoming the first side to lose their first two matches and reach the quarter-finals.

But scores from Napolioni Nalaga, who capitalised on a costly error from England full-back Mike Brown, and Sivivatu sealed Harlequins' fate.

Glasgow Warriors came back from 10-0 down to win at Exeter and climb off the foot of Pool Two.

The Warriors' 15-10 victory completes a treble over the Chiefs having won the home tie 20-16 in October and achieved a 29-26 pre-season friendly at Sandy Park.

It sets up an interesting final pool tie for against Toulon at Scotstoun for the Warriors, who can still pip Cardiff Blues for second place.

Toulon produced a stunning second-half display to beat Cardiff Blues 43-20 and book their place in the quarter-finals.

The reigning European champions led by just two points at half-time but powered their way past the forlorn Blues after the break.

Indiscipline cost the Blues dearly as four yellow cards and three penalty tries, combined with a try for wing David Smith, were enough to hand Toulon the win.

Connacht got the required victory to keep themselves in the hunt for a quarter-final place, as they ran out 20-3 winners over Zebre at the Sportsground.

Matt Healy and Robbie Henshaw scored tries either side of half-time and 20-year-old tournament debutant Jack Carty kicked the rest of the points for Pat Lam's men.

Munster moved into the last eight as Pool Six winners after subduing Gloucester's admirable resistance at a sold-out Kingsholm.

The Irish heavyweights, European champions in 2006 and 2008, prevailed through tries in each half from wing Keith Earls and skipper Peter O'Mahony, while Ian Keatley kicked 10 points.

Gloucester, though, delivered a stirring display and they went down fighting, arguably deserving more than Charlie Sharples' converted try as Munster triumphed 20-7.

Edinburgh preserved their slender hopes of remaining involved in Europe when they posted a 27-16 home win over Perpignan in Pool 6.

However, the absence of a four-try bonus point means that even an Amlin Challenge Cup spot is highly unlikely.

The Scottish outfit had tries from Tom Brown, Cornell Du Preez and Dougie Fife plus a 12-point contribution from skipper Greig Laidlaw, while Maxime Delonca touched down for Perpignan and Wales international James Hook - deployed at full-back on this occasion - landed three penalties and a conversion.

Pool Five leaders Ulster stretched their winning run to five games after seeing off a weakened but battling Montpellier 27-16 at Ravenhill.

But Ulster failed to secure a try bonus ahead of what looks likely to be next week's showdown at Leicester to decide who finishes top of the group and secures a home quarter-final.

With the Tigers expected to come away from Treviso on Saturday with a winning bonus point, Ulster were seeking their own maximum points haul to at least secure a place in the last eight but fell short with tries from Robbie Diack, Ruan Pienaar and John Afoa.

Pienaar led the scoring for Ulster with 17 points - he also added three conversions and two penalties - while Eric Escande kicked 11 points for the visitors who had nothing but pride to play for.

The Scarlets kept their chances alive in Pool 4 for another day at least as they stunned big-spending Racing Metro 19-13 at the Stade Yves du Manoir.

Simon Easterby's side could be knocked out when Harlequins host Clermont Auvergne on Saturday afternoon but this win was a huge boost regardless.

A 40-metre solo score from young wing Kristian Phillips just past the hour proved decisive, with Wales fly-half Rhys Priestland adding 14 points courtesy of four penalties and one conversion.

British & Irish Lions stars Jonny Sexton and Mike Phillips stood out for Racing, with the scrum-half grabbing his side's early try, but the Scarlets were good value for a first win in seven games.

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