Saints cruise past Perpignan
Stephen Myler (Gallo Images)
Milton Keynes - Northampton set up a Heineken Cup final against Leinster after notching up a comfortable 23-7 victory over Perpignan on Sunday.
The Saints will now face the Irish province, 32-23 winners over Toulouse on Saturday, in the final of European club rugby's showpiece event at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium on May 21.
Tries from England full-back Ben Foden and centre Jon Clarke, allied with three penalties and two conversions from outside-half Stephen Myler were enough to outclass Perpignan, for whom hooker Guilhem Guirado scored a try converted by Nicolas Laharrague.
After a frantic start, with both sides failing to convert their chances in a midfield battle, Myler sent a 14th minute penalty attempt wide.
But the Saints came roaring back, with outstanding flanker Phil Dowson initially splitting the defence, and a quick ball from Myler freeing up Foden to cross unmolested.
Myler hit the extras and followed that up with a penalty in the 26th minute. The former league player then scuffed a third penalty chance.
Things went from bad to worse for the Catalan club after centre Clarke took a wide Myler pass and left David Marty for dead in midfield, skinning the France international to cross for a try Myler converted.
The visitors' winger Julien Candelon was then sin-binned for dangerously taking out Saints scrumhalf Lee Dickson when the latter jumped to claim an up-and-under.
Dickson landed on his head after Candelon sent him spinning but after treatment was able to carry on, with Candelon perhaps lucky not to have been sent straight off for his shocking challenge.
Myler then booted a penalty after the Perpignan front-row collapsed under pressure in front of their own posts.
But Perpignan gave themselves a lifeline before halftime, spurning an easy penalty kick to instead go for touch.
From the take-and-drive, hooker Guirado was driven over for a try Laharrague converted to make it 20-7.
Guirado was on hand to prevent a certain Northampton try early in the second-half, producing a bone-rattling tackle to bundle opposite number Dylan Hartley into touch-in-goal.
Myler notched up his third penalty in the 50th minute as the home side turned the screw on the Catalans in the scrum.
With man-of-the-match Dowson and England lock Courtney Lawes to the defensive fore, Perpignan could find no way back into a game with their forwards completely dominated by a gritty Northampton side.
On Saturday, 2009 European Cup winners Leinster beat holders Toulouse 32-23 to reach the final.
Tries from No 8 Jamie Heaslip and centre Brian O'Driscoll plus 22 points from the boot of Irish flyhalf Jonathan Sexton saw the Irish province progress after a strong performance in the final quarter in Dublin.