Saints keep last eight in sight
Northampton battled hard for an 18-12 Heineken Cup victory over Castres that keeps them in the hunt for quarter-final qualification.
Ulster were confirmed as Pool Four winners following their victory over Glasgow on Friday night, but Northampton could still reach the knockout stages as one of the best group stage runners-up, and they ground out the victory with three penalties each from Stephen Myler and Ryan Lamb.
The Saints will now go in search of a bonus-point victory over Glasgow next weekend and hope that is enough to secure a berth in the quarter-finals.
Castres started like a train with the hard-running centre Romain Cabannes crashing through Myler before off-loading to Max Evans, but they failed to utilise Marcel Garvey on the overlap. Northampton escaped again when scrum-half Rory Kockott missed his first penalty shot at goal after he had been tackled off the ball by Jamie Elliot.
Kockott kicked Castres into the lead after referee George Clancy penalised the Northampton scrum. Clancy evened the ledger at the very next scrum, allowing Myler to equalise. The Saints pack was penalised for wheeling the scrum and Castres cleared but Northampton then won a penalty which Myler kicked successfully.
Castres equalised immediately, though, when Northampton were penalised for sealing off the ball under their own posts and the first half ended with the scores level. Northampton hooker Dylan Hartley spurned the points and went for another catch-and-drive against the seven-man Castres pack but the Saints made a hash of it, ended up going backwards and lost the opportunity.
Castres fly-half Daniel Kirkpatrick hit the post with a drop-goal attempt early in the second period. Calum Clark charged down Kockott's box kick and was then held back by the Castres scrum-half. Northampton won the put-in and attacked the blindside, with Ben Foden arrowing for the corner. He was halted short but Phil Dowson was bundled into touch.
Eventually Northampton had to settle for a third Myler penalty, while they repelled Castres, holding firm in the scrum before some aggressive defence forced Joe Tekori to hold on and concede the penalty, allowing Myler to clear.
Myler was replaced by Lamb who extended Northampton's lead, but it was cancelled out by Kockott almost immediately after the Saints' replacement fly-half had been penalised for going off his feet.
Lamb then almost had a pass intercepted but the tension was eased a shade when he chipped over another penalty, after Yannick Forestier had been penalised at the ruck. Lamb then sealed the victory with his third penalty, although Kockott rescued a losing bonus point for Castres with the final kick of the game.