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Courtney Lawes a doubt for Six Nations after limping off in Northampton defeat

By PA
Northampton Saints v La Rochelle – Heineken Champions Cup – Pool B – cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens

Northampton flanker Courtney Lawes limped off in the 29th minute of the 31-13 defeat to La Rochelle in the Heineken Champions Cup to put in doubt his participation in this season’s Six Nations.

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Lawes has been beset with injuries of late and if he is ruled out it will be a serious blow to England’s chances of a successful campaign.

The loss of Lawes completed a miserable afternoon for Saints, as centre Fraser Dingwall was sent off for a high challenge just 10 minutes after Lawes had left the field and lock Lukhan Salakaia-Loto also received a red card in the dying moments.

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With these two key departures, Saints had no chance of competing with the reigning champions so they fell to their fourth defeat in the competition, which left them rooted to the bottom of Pool B with just a single point.

Quentin Lespiaucq-Brettes scored two tries for La Rochelle, Levani Botia, Ulupano Seuteni and Gregory Alldritt the others with Antoine Hastoy kicking three conversions.

Tom James scored a try for Northampton with Fin Smith adding two penalties and a conversion.

Northampton had the first chance for points with Smith’s 50-metre penalty attempt sailing wide but the outside half soon made amends with a 25=metre kick to give his side a 12th-minute lead.

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Saints continued to have the better of the opening quarter but try-scoring opportunities were at a premium. The nearest opportunity came when a kick and chase from George Furbank saw him nail Dillyn Leyds close to the opposition line but the visitors regrouped to clear the danger.

The first 20 minutes was punctuated by penalties, nine in all, so it was no surprise that Smith’s penalty was the only score during that period.

It was against the run of play when the French side scored the first try. An excellent touch-finder from Antoine Hastoy secured a platform in the home 22 from where La Rochelle went through the phases before Botia forced his way over.

Hastoy converted before the home side suffered another setback when Lawes hobbled off to be replaced by Alex Coles.

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The visitors also picked up an injury blow when Leyds was forced to exit the field to fail an HIA, with Dingwall sent off for the high challenge on him to leave Saints trailing 7-3 at the interval.

Five minutes after the restart, Smith kicked a second penalty but La Rochelle emphasised their forward power when replacement hooker Lespiaucq-Brettes finished off a driving line-out.

Saints looked in trouble but when the visitors’ scrum-half Tawera Kerr-Barlow was sin-binned for a deliberate offside they immediately capitalised when replacement James finished off a neat round of passing.

However the French side quickly responded with two tries in quick succession with both Alldritt and Lespiaucq-Brettes crashing over from close range.

Northampton’s race was now run and a break from Jules Favre created the visitors’ fifth try for Seuteni which ensured a home tie for La Rochelle in the next round of the competition.

To complete Saints’ woe, Salakaia-Loto was sent off in the last minute for leading with his forearm.

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