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Dylan Hartley's Northampton edge closer to Champions Cup quarter finals

Published 23/01/2016

Dylan Hartley is expected to be announced as England captain on Monday
Dylan Hartley is expected to be announced as England captain on Monday

England captain-in-waiting Dylan Hartley led Northampton to the brink of a European Champions Cup quarter-final place as Saints claimed a comfortable Pool Three win.

Northampton hooker Hartley is expected to be named on Monday by new England head coach Eddie Jones as skipper for this season's RBS 6 Nations Championship.

England open their campaign against Scotland at Murrayfield on February 6, but Hartley's immediate concern was keeping Saints in the European last-eight picture, which they achieved at rainswept Parc-y-Scarlets through tries by Harry Mallinder, George Pisi, Sam Dickinson and George North that secured a 22-10 verdict.

Wales star North's 57th-minute touchdown on his return to Llanelli for the first time since he joined Northampton from Scarlets in 2013 secured the bonus point triumph Saints so badly needed, while fly-half Stephen Myler added one conversion and his opposite number Aled Thomas kicked a penalty before prop Rhodri Jones claimed a late try that Thomas converted.

It means that Northampton secured runners-up spot in their group behind French challengers Racing 92, and they will only fail to make April's knockout stage if Champions Cup results go against them on Sunday.

Hartley's men will not reach the last-eight should Pool Two challengers the Ospreys and Clermont Auvergne both win their games - Clermont with a bonus point - and Pool Four hopefuls Stade Francais see off Paris visitors Leicester, claiming a five-point maximum in the process.

It would be rough justice on Saints if such circumstances conspire against them, although they know that any last-eight tie will see them be away from home, and it looks set to be one of their fierce English rivals - Saracens or Leicester.

The Scarlets, crushed 64-14 by pool winners Racing 92 in Paris last weekend, showed a number of changes from that game, including a European debut for flanker Will Boyde, while Thomas and wing Tom Williams also featured.

Mallinder, son of Saints rugby director Jim Mallinder, started in midfield for the visitors, partnering Pisi, with Myler, Dickinson, wing Jamie Elliott and scrum-half Tom Kessell taking Saints' changes to five following last Sunday's home win against Glasgow.

Saints, though, were forced into another switch after just seven minutes when flanker Jamie Gibson departed following a crunching tackle by Scarlets forwards Phil John and Tom Price, and was replaced by Jon Fisher.

But it did not upset Northampton's rhythm, and they took a 12th-minute lead after an alert Mallinder grasped Scarlets number eight Morgan Allen's intended pass and sprinted away to touch down, with Myler's conversion giving Saints a 7-0 lead.

The Scarlets initially looked like a team going through the motions, and Saints struck again eight minutes later after making headway through some impressive phase-play before moving possession wide and Pisi squeezed over in the corner.

Thomas opened the home side's account through a 27th-minute penalty, but Northampton still had firm control of the contest, despite not adding to their points total by half-time as they trooped off 12-3 ahead.

It took Saints just seven minutes of the second period to extend their advantage, though, after sustained forward pressure resulted in Dickinson claiming a simple touchdown.

And matters quickly got worse for the Scarlets when their Samoa international lock Maselino Paulino was yellow-carded by French referee Pascal Gauzere for a shoulder-led charge on Saints' England lock Courtney Lawes that left Lawes requiring treatment.

Television replays appeared to show a combination of Paulino smashing into Lawes with his shoulder and forearm, and it would be no surprise if the Scarlets player is cited and summoned to face a disciplinary hearing.

North then collected a superbly-timed Mallinder pass to give Northampton the all-important fourth try, meaning it was a case of job done - despite finishing with 14 men after substitute scrum-half Lee Dickson was sin-binned for a technical offence - and leaving Saints to play a 24-hour waiting game before discovering their European fate.

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