Nine-try Northampton Saints hammer depleted Bulls to set up Champions Cup semi-final with Leinster

Planet Rugby
James Ramm going over for Northampton Saints against Bulls.

James Ramm going over for Northampton Saints against Bulls.

Northampton Saints were too good for an under-strength Bulls outfit as they cruised to a superb 59-22 win in their Investec Champions Cup quarter-final on Saturday.

Much was made in the build-up to the game about the Bulls leaving several Springboks at home and the decision backfired as Saints demolished their South African visitors.

Nine tries were scored in all as James Ramm (2), Courtney Lawes, Ollie Sleightholme, Alex Mitchell (2), Alex Coles, Fraser Dingwall and Juarno Augustus all crossed the line.

Click here for scorers

Cameron Hanekom, Akker van der Merwe and Sebastian de Klerk scored for the Bulls but it’s Northampton who progress to a semi-final date with Leinster at Croke Park.

What should have been a thunderous collision between the Premiership leaders and the best team in South Africa instead turned into a procession as the Bulls paid the price for leaving out big names such as Willie le Roux, Canan Moodie and Kurt-Lee Arendse.

They blamed injury and their epic journey from Pretoria via eight different airlines and myriad routes for the omissions, but stood accused of devaluing the competition in order to prioritise the United Rugby Championship.

For 10 minutes of the second quarter they gave Northampton a fright, reducing a 28-10 deficit to just six points by half-time to punish Saints’ over-eagerness in attack.

The hosts quickly rediscovered their rhythm in attack to resume their rampage and on successive weekends they have now dispatched the sides positioned third and fourth in the URC.

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Six days ago it was Munster, who were toppled, and while that was a classic European showdown, irresistible Saints could only beat the opposition in front of them in this quarter-final.

George Hendy was the destroyer in chief of Munster after running in two pivotal tries and his first involvement against the Bulls was to carry the ball out of defence from close to his line.

It was the prelude to a flurry of three tries in five minutes, a sequence that began with full-back Ramm dummying his way over before number eight Hanekom hit back from close range.

Neither side had covered themselves in glory in defence, but worse was to come from the Bulls as Fin Smith sent Coles marauding into space with Lawes in support to touch down.

Sleighthome used his strength to barrel over as Saints attacked from a line-out and when Mitchell used his wits and strength to cross, Northampton had their fourth try.

What was becoming a rout suddenly had an injection of drama when Bulls scored twice in quick succession, first through hooker Van der Merwe and then De Klerk after he picked off Mitchell’s pass as Saints were probing the line.

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Northampton needed to settle and just seconds after the interval the precision returned to their game with Mitchell sending Tommy Freeman striding through the defence before supplying the scoring pass to Coles.

Ramm was the next to cross as Saints swarmed over the visitors, whose problems grew when Hanekom was shown a yellow card for a spear tackle.

The Bulls were coming apart at the seams as their tanks emptied and Dingwall and Mitchell helped themselves to tries to surpass the half century of points.

It began to look ugly for a European knockout game when Augustus notched Northampton’s ninth try as their high octane attack ignited for the last time.

The teams

Northampton Saints: 15 James Ramm, 14 George Hendy, 13 Tommy Freeman, 12 Fraser Dingwall, 11 Ollie Sleightholme, 10 Fin Smith, 9 Alex Mitchell, 8 Juarno Augustus, 7 Sam Graham, 6 Courtney Lawes (c), 5 Alex Coles, 4 Alex Moon, 3 Trevor Davison, 2 Curtis Langdon, 1 Emmanuel Iyogun
Replacements: 16 Sam Matavesi, 17 Alex Waller, 18 Paul Hill, 19 Temo Mayanavanua, 20 Angus Scott-Young, 21 Lewis Ludlam, 22 Tom James, 23 George Furbank

Bulls: 15 Devon Williams, 14 Sebastian de Klerk, 13 Henry Immelman, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Stravino Jacobs, 10 Chris Smith, 9 Zak Burger, 8 Cameron Hanekom, 7 Mpilo Gumede, 6 Nizaam Carr (c), 5 JF van Heerden, 4 Janko Swanepoel, 3 Mornay Smith, 2 Akker van der Merwe, 1 Simphiwe Matanzima
Replacements: 16 Jan-Hendrik Wessels, 17 Dylan Smith, 18 Francois Klopper, 19 Merwe Olivier, 20 Reinhardt Ludwig, 21 Keagan Johannes, 22 Jaco van der Walt, 23 Cornal Hendricks

Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)
Assistant Referees: Ludovic Cayre (France), Luc Ramos (France)
TMO: Thomas Charabas (France)

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