Clermont Auvergne 48 Northampton Saints 40: Tom Vickers' review and player ratings

Fraser Dingwall scored another try in another big game for Saints
Fraser Dingwall scored another try in another big game for Saints

After 13 tries, 88 points, two strange kit choices and, all in all, one incredible European encounter, it could be hard to know where to begin.

So let's start with a telling statistic.

In their previous two visits to the raucous Stade Marcel Michelin, Saints had scored a combined total of 12 points.

So the fact they racked up that number inside just eight minutes on Saturday night tells you all you need to know about the ambition and courage Chris Boyd's men showed.

Especially because they had gone behind so early, conceding a score that was made by a clever Damian Penaud offload and finished by Sitaleki Timani.

When Clermont crossed the whitewash, Saints fans would have been forgiven for fearing the worst.

Because when Les Jaunards' steamroller gets up and running, it is so hard to stop.

Saints were overwhelmed and outgunned by Clermont in their previous games on French soil.

But this brave side, packed with young players, stood tall and issued the perfect riposte.

Two tries made in the Northampton Academy were scored, by Fraser Dingwall and Alex Mitchell.

And suddenly Saints were stretching Clermont at will, stunning their hosts.

Then came a hammer blow, with Boyd's men trying to blow the home door down for a third time, only to ship an unfortunate intercept try.

Clermont were back ahead and now had a grip on the game, eventually surging into a 27-12 half-time lead.

Surely game over?

Not for this Saints side.

The black, green and gold actually won the second half and were just a single point down on two separate occasions, at 34-33 and 41-40.

And had a couple of lineouts in Clermont territory gone their way late on, the best European away win in Saints history could just have been conjured up.

That it wasn't owed much to Clermont's ability to score, seemingly at will at times.

And the home side also got a few favourable decisions in different departments.

But from a Saints perspective, this night should not be remembered for a refereeing display.

Nor should it be remembered for Clermont's power and precision.

And it also shouldn't be remembered for Saints' defensive struggles against their sizeable opponents.

What it should be remembered for is the immense show of character that was produced by the men sporting Saints colours.

So often in recent years have Northampton suffered big European defeats, crumbling under the weight of their opposition after conceding an early score.

But there is a new determination about this side. A determination that the club possessed during successful trophy-winning times years ago.

In the youngsters who are making their way into the first team, they have a bunch of players who are not only talented, but who can also deal with pressure cooker atmospheres.

Dingwall is a fine example, as he has recently scored in huge games against Wasps - twice - Exeter and now Clermont.

But he is just one of many young guns who have fired this season, showing they will belong on the big stage for many years to come.

They blended well with the likes of Courtney Lawes and Teimana Harrison, previous graduates of the club's Academy, to inspire a real feeling of pride.

'Come on you Saints' echoed around the ground for most of the night, with the noise only growing louder and louder after the final whistle.

That said it all.

Saints may have lost on the night, but they gained so much more from this experience.

Their young players - and the older ones - showed they could go toe to toe with a team who remain the only outfit to possess a flawless record in Europe this season.

They went toe to toe with a team that currently tops the Top 14.

And they actually won the second half against a team who certainly will expect to win this competition when the final rolls around in May.

If the two teams meet again on the way, a trip to Stade Marcel Michelin will hold no fear for Saints.

And you certainly wouldn't have believed that would ever be the case before kick-off on Saturday night.

You feared they would be overwhelmed up front and pretty much everywhere by a team who had flew to a ferocious victory at Franklin's Gardens in October.

But, as has been the case so often already this season, the expectation has not been the reality for Saints.

No, this brave, ambitious bunch are giving their supporters plenty to sing about, in victory and defeat during the current campaign.

And with age on the side of so many of this squad, fans of the black, green and gold should expect many more entertaining nights like this in the not too distant future.

How they rated...

AHSEE TUALA

Enjoyed the attacking verve Saints were playing with but it was a tough night for a full-back going the other way as Clermont really put the pressure on... 6

TOM COLLINS

Was a key figure in Saints' counter-attacking game, using his pace and fantastic footwork to gain crucial ground to relieve pressure and start some slick moves... 7

FRASER DINGWALL

Another special moment for the 19-year-old as he scored a fine try early on. He continued to excel in attack but was given a tough time in defence by Clermont's big ball carriers... 7

LUTHER BURRELL

Produced one superb offload in the build-up to Cobus Reinach's try and was hungry to get involved at every opportunity... 7

TAQELE NAIYARAVORO

Was second only to Harrison in terms of metres made as he tried to push Clermont back with his physicality, but they troubled him defensively on quite a few occasions... 5

DAN BIGGAR

Would have relished the chance to play the full 80 minutes in this big match for his club, but injury struck early on, forcing him from the field

ALEX MITCHELL

Was razor-sharp throughout his time on the pitch, setting the tempo for Saints' attacking game and deservedly etching his name on the scoresheet... 8

FRANCOIS VAN WYK

Is providing a real challenge for the Saints loosehead spot now, getting better with each game this season... 8

JAMES FISH

A really strong showing from the talented hooker, who kept the lineout steady, held his own in the scrum and provided a fine assist for Mitchell's score... 8

EHREN PAINTER

An impressive performance from the young prop, who displayed good hands, was steady in the scrum and tried to carry hard for his team... 7

DAVID RIBBANS

Time after time, this man made metres in traffic, carrying the fight to Clermont as well as keeping a cool head in the lineout to keep his team on track... 8

API RATUNIYARAWA

Continually tried to blast holes in the Clermont defence with some strong surges, showing why the coaches were right to select him for this game... 7

COURTNEY LAWES

The captain for the night led by example, smashing into big tackles and carrying hard at every opportunity in a display that showed why he is one of the best around... 8

HEINRICH BRUSSOW

Was so fired up for this, looking lively early on and although it cost him on a couple of occasions as he got on the wrong side of the referee, he was always in Clermont's faces... 7

TEIMANA HARRISON - CHRON STAR MAN

An incredible display from the No.8, who scored a hat-trick, topped the Saints charts for carries and metres made and even masqueraded as a winger for one of his scores... 9

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

JAMES GRAYSON (for Biggar 10)

Not an easy game to come into so early on as a fly-half, but the youngster showed maturity beyond his years as he steered the Saints ship and kicked well... 7

LEWIS LUDLAM (for Brussow 55)

He might only have been on the field for 25 minutes, but the flanker was in the thick of the action, sitting third in Saints' tackle count and producing a stunning assist for Reinach... 7

BEN FRANKS (for Painter 55)

Helped Saints to continue to compete with Clermont up front, especially as they looked for scores after kicking to the corner... 6

COBUS REINACH (for Mitchell 55)

Made an instant impact as he supported well to get yet another score, and he helped Saints to keep the speed of their attacks high... 7

REECE MARSHALL (for Fish 57)

Wasn't able to get his lineouts right late on, which proved costly, but that wasn't all his own fault and he certainly didn't shy away from the physical battle... 5