Dan Biggar’s 85th-minute match-winning penalty gave Northampton a thrilling 35-32 Heineken Champions Cup victory over Benetton Rugby in Italy.
With the teams locked at 32-32 and the clock in the red zone, Benetton winger Iliesa Ratuva was judged to have deliberately knocked on Tom Collins’ pass. It gave Biggar the chance to seal victory and he stepped up in nerveless fashion to send the ball between the posts with the last play of the game.
The Saints rallied from 22-8 down to retake the lead in a game which saw both teams claim a bonus point for scoring four tries. Collins grabbed two with Cobus Reinach and Ollie Sleightholme also going over. Benetton played superbly with hooker Hame Faiva scoring twice, while Ratuva and Juan Ignacio Brex also crossed.
Saints included former All Blacks Owen Franks and Matt Proctor from the off as Chris Boyd made eight changes. His team made a fast start with Biggar kicking a simple penalty. Benetton turned down a shot at goal in favour of the corner and it paid dividends with their forwards rumbling to the line. Faiva was the man to score.
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Tommaso Allan converted the score, but Saints soon hit back. Benetton coughed up possession and won a penalty where Reinach took a quick tap and Biggar’s outrageous pass found Collins.
Biggar could not convert and Allan responded with a penalty before it got even better for the Italians. Another rumbling line-out drive put Northampton in trouble and Ratuva was left with an easy walk in when the ball was spread back right. Allan could not kick the touchline conversion.
Northampton were being stifled by some aggressive Benetton defence and Biggar was then yellow carded for a dangerous tackle on Irne Herbst.
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Monty Ioane had a try ruled out by the TMO for a foot in touch, but Benetton’s third soon arrived as centre Brex smashed through some poor Northampton tackling in midfield. Allan converted, but with Biggar back on the field, Saints gave themselves a lifeline through Reinach.
He took a quick tap to score and Braam Steyn was yellow carded for going off his feet in the build-up. Biggar converted. Collins was held up over the line as Northampton started the second half on top. Biggar kicked a penalty and Collins chipped ahead to collect his own kick and the pressure told when Sleightholme crossed. Benetton thought he had blocked Ioane in the build-up, but the try stood and Biggar converted to tie the game at 25-25.
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Before his try Sleightholme had spilled the ball with the line gaping and Northampton kept their bench in reserve while Benetton unloaded their replacements. Northampton then delivered when it mattered. From a scrum, Rory Hutchinson and George Furbank sent Collins flying away for his second down the narrow side. Biggar’s conversion made it 24 unanswered points for Saints.
It looked like it would be enough for victory, but after Lewis Ludlam gave away a cheap penalty, Faiva was driven over the line for Benetton’s first moment of second-half joy, and Allan’s conversion made it 32-32. Benetton pushed hard for a win late on, but Jamie Gibson removed the pressure with a turnover and his team went on the attack from where Biggar ultimately won his team the game.
– Press Association
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