Teimana Harrison scores twice as Northampton beat Castres in Champions Cup
Northampton continued their recent improved form with a narrow 28-21 win over Castres in an entertaining European Champions Cup game at Franklin's Gardens.
The win avenged a 41-7 defeat at the Stade Pierre Antoine back in October but it wasn't enough for Saints to have any realistic chance of progressing from Pool 4 as they remained bottom of the standings.
It was Saints' fourth consecutive victory with England forwards Courtney Lawes, Tom Wood and Teimana Harrison, all performing impressively.
Harrison was the star performer with two tries. Wood and Stephen Myler scored one apiece with Myler converting all four scores.
Alexandre Bias and Julien Dumora scored tries for Castres with skipper Rory Kockott adding three penalties and a conversion.
Northampton suffered a blow when prop Kieran Brookes was a late withdrawal with a back spasm but they overcame that setback to make a blistering start.
When Castres were penalised on halfway, Saints secured a platform in the visitors' 22 before exerting tremendous pressure, which culminated in a third-minute try for Harrison.
Both sides were intent on playing attacking rugby in the opening stages but the next score came via a Kockott penalty after Wood was offside at a ruck.
Wood soon made amends with a couple of powerful bursts as Saints continued to dominate the first quarter with Castres hooker Jody Jenneker collecting a yellow card for dragging down a driving maul but after 20 minutes it was still only 7-3 to the hosts.
Saints failed miserably to capitalise on Jenneker's absence by conceding a number of careless penalties and it was the French who scored before the hooker could return.
Penetrative runs from Geoffrey Palis and Robert Ebersohn breached the Saints' defence to create a try for Bias and Castres were in front after 30 minutes.
That lead did not last long though as straight from the restart Nic Groom's break put the visitors on the back foot which resulted in an easy run-in for Myler.
It could have got worse for Castres as Harrison burst away from a lineout before going on a thrilling 40-metre run but Juan Pablo Estelles knocked on with the try line beckoning.
However Harrison's efforts didn't go unrewarded as he crashed over for his second with another conversion from Myler giving Saints a 21-8 half-time lead.
After the restart Kockott missed a penalty but the introduction of former Leicester flanker Steve Mafi and regular captain Rodrigo Capo Ortega galvanised Castres, who picked up the next score with a try from Dumora.
Two Kockott penalties brought the French level as the game approached the final quarter before Myler's drop-goal attempt rebounded back off a post.
Myler had a kickable penalty chance but Saints opted for an attacking lineout and it proved the correct call as Wood forced his way over to secure the win and obtain a bonus point.