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Northampton begin European Champions Cup campaign with narrow win over Scarlets

Northampton got their European Champions Cup campaign off to a successful start with a nervy 15-11 win over Scarlets at Franklin's Gardens.

Ken Pisi and Alex Waller scored tries for the Saints with JJ Hanrahan kicking a penalty and a conversion although Scarlets kept in touch - and were ahead at one point in the second half - throughout thanks to Steven Shingler's two penalties and Gareth Davies' score.

However, the visitors were left to rue four missed kicks at goal as they began Pool 3 with a narrow defeat.

Northampton made four changes from last week's defeat by Saracens. Lee Dickson and Hanrahan came in at half-back with wing Pisi and hooker Mike Heywood also recalled to the starting line-up.

Scarlets gave a debut to Samoan lock, Maselino Paulino, with Shingler, recovering from a toe injury to play at fly-half. Skipper Ken Owens was an absentee with a toe injury so number eight John Barclay took over the captaincy.

After an error-ridden opening, Saints took a sixth-minute lead with an excellent try. From a scrum 25 metres out, Hanrahan brushed past some weak Scarlets tackling to send in Pisi for the first score.

Scarlets responded with incisive breaks from Gareth Davies and DTH van der Merwe to put the home defence on the back foot and when the Saints were penalised, Shingler knocked over the easy kick.

Minutes later, Shingler had another penalty chance but was off target before Saints produced a breathtaking 80-metre movement, which ended with Luther Burrell crossing the try-line to capitalise on Pisi's fantastic burst.

However, it was disallowed after George North was seen to have lashed out with his boot, connecting with the shoulder of Michael Tagicakibau. As a result of the blow, the Scarlets wing left the field only to return soon afterwards but North was sin-binned for his action.

Northampton suffered two further blows when first lock Christian Day departed with an injury before Hanrahan missed a penalty.

When Jake Ball late tackled Dickson, the visitors' lock was fortunate to escape a yellow card but a penalty was awarded, only for Hanrahan to miss again shortly before North returned from the bin.

Scarlets grabbed the next score with a Shingler penalty but they still trailed 7-6 at the interval.

Two minutes after the restart, Scarlets had a chance to take the lead but Shingler's attempt was nowhere near but nine minutes later the visitors were ahead with a great try.

Dickson's clearance kick was collected by Aled Thomas, who breached the opposition defence to send Davies racing 30 metres and over the line. Shingler's conversion attempt rebounded back off a post.

Scarlets' lead did not last for long as Waller finished off a line-over drive to give the hosts a 12-11 advantage at the end of the third quarter.

At that stage, Saints brought on Stephen Myler to play at fly-half with Hanrahan switching to centre in place of George Pisi.

Saints suffered another setback when flanker Jamie Gibson was yellow carded for killing the ball but this was off-set when the visitors lost prop Ricky Evans due to concussion.

With 12 minutes remaining Hanrahan kicked a penalty to give his side some breathing space before Thomas missed a penalty for Scarlets, which coupled with the return of Gibson, allowed the Saints to hang on.


From Belfast Telegraph