All square as Saints keep Champions Cup hopes alive

NO WAY THROUGH - Stephen Myler finds his progress blocked in the draw with Racing 92 (Pictures: Kirsty Edmonds)
NO WAY THROUGH - Stephen Myler finds his progress blocked in the draw with Racing 92 (Pictures: Kirsty Edmonds)
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Saints produced a spirited response to their Racing 92 rout as they held the Top 14 side at Franklin’s Gardens on Friday night.

Fly-halves Stephen Myler and Dan Carter traded penalties in a game that neither side ever really got a grip on.

The 9-9 draw keeps both teams in a decent position in Pool 3, though Racing are in the ascendancy as they sit two points clear of Saints with a game in hand.

Saints had headed back to the Gardens after a sobering 33-3 defeat at Stade Yves-du-Manoir six days earlier.

They had hoped to produce one of their trademark European ripostes, following superb turnaround successes against Ulster and Leinster in Decembers gone by.

They did so, but not in such spectacular fashion, as Racing frustrated with strong defending and impressive discipline.

And in the end, Jim Mallinder’s men decided to take the two points, running the ball out of play in their own half to bring the curtain down on a nip and tuck encounter.

Saints had been forced to make a change before kick-off with Jamie Elliott coming in for his 100th Northampton appearance, in place of Ahsee Tuala.

The home team were fired up from the off, with strong carries from dynamic flanker Teimana Harrison and Victor Matfield pushing Racing back.

Saints were also bossing the breakdown and the scrum, with the latter earning a penalty, which Myler landed with aplomb.

But Racing responded with a slick move that earned them a penalty, giving Kiwi star Carter his first Franklin’s Gardens points.

Saints were soon hit with a sizeable blow as prop Kieran Brookes was forced off with a leg injury.

And with Racing having taken advantage of his strapped up knee in an earlier scrum, Carter added another penalty to their tally.

Saints were doing their best to get back on top, but slow ball at the breakdown and some sloppy handling was undoing their hard work.

They started the second half on the front foot, with the home fans desperately trying to verbally push their side through the Racing defence.

Saints’ determination was eventually rewarded with a penalty, which Myler landed to restore parity.

Kahn Fotuali’i was then introduced in the hope that he would add an extra spark to proceedings, but it was the scrum that brought the next penalty.

Myler attempted an ambitious effort from halfway, but his effort was wayward, giving Racing a reprieve.

And they used it to take a 9-6 lead as Saints infringed in front of the posts and Carter easily landed his third penalty of the night.

Saints hit back quickly though as Wenceslas Lauret was seen to have had an arm round the neck of Paul Hill and referee Nigel Owens gave a penalty, which Myler kicked.

The tension was rising as the final 15 minutes approached - and so were the decibel levels.

George Pisi did brilliantly to charge down a Brice Dulin kick and Elliott almost scored with the rebound, but Racing did superbly to hold the Saints wing up.

From the resulting scrum, the French side got a shove on, winning a penalty against the head as the loss of Brookes told for Mallinder’s men.

Saints and Racing then proceeded to trade territory in the final 10 minutes, but neither side could force a penalty from the other as the game ended all square.

Match facts

Saints: Foden; Elliott (K Pisi 73), G Pisi (Hanrahan 71), Burrell, North; Myler, Dickson (c) (Fotuali’i 52); A Waller (E Waller 66), Haywood, Brookes; Lawes (Paterson 66), Matfield (Day 52); Gibson, Harrison (Williams 75), Dickinson.

Racing 92: Dulin; Rokocoko (Andreu 59), Laulala, Chavancy, Imhoff; Carter, Phillips (Machenaud 50); Ben Arous (Brugnaut 59), Szarzewski (Chat 62), Tameifuna (Gomes Sa 50); Charteris, van der Merwe (Carizza 66); Lauret, Nyanga, Masoe (Claassen 75).

Referee: Nigel Owens