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Prem top dogs Northampton dispatch Munster to reach Champions Cup quarters

By PA
George Hendy scores for Saints - PA

Northampton stormed into the Investec Champions Cup quarter-finals after two tries by George Hendy broke Munster’s resistance in a 24-14 victory at Franklin’s Gardens.

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Hendy, Saints’ 21-year-old replacement wing, crossed twice in the final quarter of a gripping round-of-16 encounter fought out by the Gallagher Premiership’s leaders and current holders of the United Rugby Championship crown.

Northampton edged their humdinger of a group clash in January and this rematch of the 2000 final was every bit as dramatic despite the swirling winds that made kicking and patrolling the backfield tricky.

Saints missed injured full-back George Furbank, one of their most effective attacking weapons this season, while another influential England star Alex Mitchell was limited to a supporting role off the bench.

Yet they still produced the match’s decisive moment when replacement back Hendy finished a superb try made possible by Fin Smith’s decision making, before England Under-20 international Hendy showed strength to grab his second in the 73rd minute.

Match Summary

0
Penalty Goals
0
4
Tries
2
2
Conversions
2
0
Drop Goals
0
110
Carries
137
6
Line Breaks
5
15
Turnovers Lost
21
8
Turnovers Won
11

Northampton join Premiership rivals Harlequins and Exeter in next weekend’s quarter-finals where they will host South African side the Bulls, having proved their mettle and attacking class against Munster.

It was the first of those qualities that came to the fore in the first half and they impressively rope-a-doped their way through the opening 10 minutes, soaking up phase after phase of Munster’s early onslaught before hitting back with their first attack through James Ramm.

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The Irish visitors went straight back on the offensive to draw level through wing Sean O’Brien and the frantic pace of the opening quarter continued as the rivals took it in turns to threaten the whitewash.

Northampton Saints Munster
Tommy Freeman makes inroads into Munster’s defence – PA

 

Munster were clearly on top, however, with their growing dominance founded on their ability to retain possession and intent to keep the ball moving, tactics that were creating holes in the home defence.

Mike Haley was the next over after scrum-half Tom James had ducked under tackles to keep the move alive and in a sign of Northampton’s struggles, a turnover close to their line produced a loud cheer from their fans.

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They were given more to shout about when Tommy Freeman raced over in the 36th minute once Saints had sucked in defenders following a scrum to create space in midfield.

The high-octane play continued into the second half but Munster were no longer able to hold on to the ball for such long stretches, while handling errors increasingly affected the endeavour shown.

Attack

151
Passes
216
110
Ball Carries
137
223m
Post Contact Metres
108m
6
Line Breaks
5

Instead, Northampton were controlling territory and possession, and having seen a number of moves foiled by self-inflicted errors, their attack clicked into gear beautifully in the 61st minute for Hendy to cross.

The move started from a line-out inside Saints’ 22 with Smith racing forward and feeding Ollie Sleightholme off his wing with a delayed pass before Ramm sent Hendy over.

Smith failed with a conversion and then a penalty attempt, the wind intervening to make both kicks a lottery, but Hendy ended any doubt when he broke two tackles to touch down in the left corner.

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Jon 1 days ago
Why Sam Cane's path to retirement is perfect for him and the All Blacks

> It would be best described as an elegant solution to what was potentially going to be a significant problem for new All Blacks coach Scott Robertson. It is a problem the mad population of New Zealand will have to cope with more and more as All Blacks are able to continue their careers in NZ post RWCs. It will not be a problem for coaches, who are always going to start a campaign with the captain for the next WC in mind. > Cane, despite his warrior spirit, his undoubted commitment to every team he played for and unforgettable heroics against Ireland in last year’s World Cup quarter-final, was never unanimously admired or respected within New Zealand while he was in the role. Neither was McCaw, he was considered far too passive a captain and then out of form until his last world cup where everyone opinions changed, just like they would have if Cane had won the WC. > It was never easy to see where Cane, or even if, he would fit into Robertson’s squad given the new coach will want to be building a new-look team with 2027 in mind. > Cane will win his selections on merit and come the end of the year, he’ll sign off, he hopes, with 100 caps and maybe even, at last, universal public appreciation for what was a special career. No, he won’t. Those returning from Japan have already earned the right to retain their jersey, it’s in their contract. Cane would have been playing against England if he was ready, and found it very hard to keep his place. Perform, and they keep it however. Very easy to see where Cane could have fit, very hard to see how he could have accomplished it choosing this year as his sabbatical instead of 2025, and that’s how it played out (though I assume we now know what when NZR said they were allowing him to move his sabbatical forward and return to NZ next year, they had actually agreed to simply select him for the All Blacks from overseas, without any chance he was going to play in NZ again). With a mammoth season of 15 All Black games they might as well get some value out of his years contract, though even with him being of equal character to Richie, I don’t think they should guarantee him his 100 caps. That’s not what the All Blacks should be about. He absolutely has to play winning football.

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