Northampton Saints lost to Castres 21-16 in the Heineken Cup for the second year running after being outclassed and outfought in Toulouse on Friday night.
A George Pisi try was not enough for the Aviva Premiership leaders, as their French opposition edged to victory under the lights of the Stade Ernest Wallon in the Pool Four clash.
It was the home side who made the better start to the game, and their early pressure finally told when Romain Martial collected a high ball and fed Paul Bonnefond who was on hand to take the ball over the line for the first try of the match.
Romain Teulet who has over 3000 points for Castres then converted to give the home side a 7-0 lead within the opening 10 minutes.
Northampton needed to get a foothold in the game, but it was Castres who continued to dominate and play with typical French flair.
Teulet took advantage of some undisciplined defending from Northampton and added three more points to Castres’ score.
Almost straight from the restart after Teulet’s kick, the Saints were then awarded a penalty and Stephen Myler gave them their first points of the match.
Northampton sensed a vulnerability in the French side’s defence and Myler kicked another penalty in front of the posts before Castres, who defeated Northampton 41-22 in last season’s competition, hit back.
Rory Kockott took advantage of more lapses in Northampton’s defending to convert another penalty and give the home side a 13-6 lead at the interval.
Although Teulet missed the penalty, Castres were able to put the Saints under relentless pressure due to their man advantage.
Antonie Classen powered his way over the line for the try and although Kockott failed to convert, the lead now stood at 18-6.
The game looked over for the Saints, but a sloppy lineout from Castres handed Mallinder’s men a lifeline.
Pisi took advantage of poor play from the home side, and dived over for the try. Myler converted the kick.
But Castres hit back and Remi Tales sensed the next score was crucial and helped himself to a drop goal to give his side a 21-13 lead.
But the Saints continued to believe they were still in the game, and after a mistake by the Castres defence, Myler knocked over a penalty to bring his side to within one score of the home side and at least secure the losing bonus.