Northampton got their Heineken Cup campaign off to a nervy start with a somewhat fortunate 18-14 win over a lively Castres side at Franklin’s Gardens.
For parts of the match Castres were the better team and the home side can count themselves lucky to have come away winning after missing five kicks in the first half.
Northampton, quarter-finalists last season, began brightly against the French side – who are positioned a lowly 10th in their Top 14.
Within two minutes of the start Saints had obtained a foothold in the Castres 22 following a powerful burst from Courtney Lawes and some elusive running from Shane Geraghty.
Bruce Reihana had the first chance to open the scoring after 10 minutes but his long-range penalty attempt was hit well wide.
Once again the combination of Geraghty and Lawes ripped the French defence apart but somehow the visitors kept their line intact.
After 17 minutes Reihana was presented with another penalty opportunity but his kick went badly astray. Moments later Castres had their chance but full-back Pierre Bernard failed with an optimistic penalty attempt from inside his own half.
On a couple of occasions in the opening quarter Castres looked lively in attack but it was a shock and against the run of the play when they took the lead after 21 minutes.
They moved the ball swiftly along the line with neat play from Bernard and flanker Ibrahim Diarra which culminated in Joe Tekori driving over from close range for the try which was confirmed by the video referee. Bernard's conversion attempt fell narrowly wide.
Stunned by the reverse, back came the Saints and they were awarded another penalty. This one was much easier, but Reihana made another hash of his kick from an angled 22 metres.
With nine minutes to go before the interval Northampton finally got on the scoreboard. Castres lost a lineout in their own 22, allowing the home forwards to drive for the line and when the ball came back a clever blindside pass from Lee Dickson sent Reihana over totally unopposed in the corner. The wing missed his fourth kick with a difficult touchline attempt.
Cameron McIntyre restored the French lead with a neat drop goal but this success was immediately offset by the loss of hooker Matthieu Bonello to the sin-bin. With the last kick of the half Geraghty's penalty attempt to level the scores almost ran across the floor.
Within 40 seconds of the restart the hosts were ahead. Geraghty ran to the blindside from a ruck 35 metres out. He fed Phil Dowson, whose splendid inside pass sent Ben Foden on a clear run to the line for a try which Geraghty converted.
Bernard then had a chance to cut Northampton's lead but his 55-metre kick was nowhere near. Despite this reverse it was Castres who dominated the third quarter and Bernard's penalty after 60 minutes was just reward for this effort
Two minutes later the visitors were penalised and Geraghty restored his side's four-point advantage. Bernard had another penalty chance but his decent effort fell short before the visitors' full-back set up a tense finale with a successful kick with 10 minutes to go.
At long last Northampton raised their game and put the French under pressure. The visitors offended and replacement Stephen Myler knocked over the penalty with three minutes to go – and the Saints held on.