Northampton Saints 25 Lyon OU 14: Tom Vickers' review

When Saints steamrollered their way to the Heineken Cup final during the 2010/11 season, they had a unique selling point.

By Tom Vickers
Monday, 18th November 2019, 7:00 am
Rory Hutchinson scored Saints' only try as they beat Lyon on Sunday afternoon
Rory Hutchinson scored Saints' only try as they beat Lyon on Sunday afternoon

They were a team that could completely overpower opposition sides, and they did it all the way to half-time in the final, when they were leading Leinster 22-6.

With a feared front row of Soane Tonga'uiha, Dylan Hartley and Brian Mujati, they were brutal in the set piece and around the park.

And the men outside of the scrum weren't bad either, with the likes of Ben Foden and Chris Ashton running riot.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Fast forward nine years and a new Saints side is beginning its European journey in a very different way.

Chris Boyd has created a team that plays with real pace and prides itself on being able to cut teams apart with a razor-sharp attacking game.

That is not to say the pack doesn't play its part.

Any successful side has to have strong forwards who can compete when the going gets tough.

The current crop are all capable of playing at the speed required and if they are able to at least achieve parity in the physical battle then Saints will back themselves against any opposition.

That has been the key point, with the recent loss at Bath showing that there is still plenty of work to be done up front.

And there is also much to be done in other aspects of the game.

But there is no doubt that this team is on an upward trajectory.

And on Sunday, they showed just that once again.

Because while there were plenty of moments they didn't deem good enough, Saints still managed to beat Lyon by 11 points.

Last season, they may not have been viewed as the greatest of achievements, considering Pierre Mignoni's men failed to pick up a Champions Cup pool stage point.

But they came to Northampton for this season's opener on the crest of a wave, sitting clear at the Top 14 table, having won eight of their nine matches this season.

The only team to beat them were the formidable Clermont Auvergne outfit that Saints know all about, so the size of the challenge lying in wait was clear.

But they refused to be fazed and they were able to play the game they wanted to play during a flowing first half.

They were 19-0 up by half-time, shifting Lyon around the park, panicking them and taking the penalty points on offer thanks to the assured boot of Dan Biggar.

Plus, there was a fantastic finish from talented centre Rory Hutchinson.

They didn't let Lyon dominate and when the French side did get a foothold in the game, Saints were sharp enough and alert enough to snuff them out.

Their scramble defence was as good as Lyon's execution was poor.

Lyon didn't play to anywhere near the levels that would have been expected from them, throwing away lineout chances and coughing up possession.

And by the time they did get their game going in the second period, it was largely too late.

But that is to this Saints side's credit.

In the key moments at the start of the game, they set the tone.

They are now playing with an attacking approach that, like their power play did in 2010/11, has the potential to make them a feared outfit in Europe.

There is a long way to go and they will face higher levels of performance as this competition goes on.

But the key thing is that they were greeted by a big obstacle on Sunday afternoon and they kept playing their way.

They did not let Lyon's reputation sway them, they ran the ball on many an occasion - even five metres from their own line - and they often did it well.

It is that confidence in approach that took them to the 2011 final, where they eventually ran out of steam.

And it is that kind of belief that they will hope takes them far again this time round.