At Franklin’s Gardens in Northampton yesterday evening for the Saints first game in this season’s European Cup, playing Munster for the first time since we beat them 9-8 in the Heineken Cup Final in May 2000 – 27/05/2000 to be precise, a date firmly embedded in my memory. Also the Saints first match in the Heineken Cup since they were relegated at the end of the 2006/07 season – one season in Division One, and winners of the European Challenge Cup last season.

And what a game it was last night, ending in a 31-27 upset win for the Saints. Munster are one of the best teams in Europe – last season they won the Magners League and were runners up to Leinster in the Heineken Cup Final. They are stuttering a little at the moment, and this was the first game for many of their Lions players, but this was a fantastic win for Northampton against a side packed full of Ireland and Lions internationals. It was also one of the best games of rugby I’ve ever been to, and by far the best atmosphere at the Gardens I’ve experienced. There were plenty of Munster fans (up to 2,500 in a sell-out crowd of 13,500) making a lot of noise, but the Saints fans cranked it up several notches to create a fantastic evening. The Munster fans were only really “allowed” one or two full renditions of Fields of Athenry – after that, the “Wendy’s” (as in “When The Saints Go Marching In”) were fired up to drown them out. A top night!
Plenty of early Saints pressure, this chip through from Geraghty just covered by Munster, with Clarke and Best not far off.

A relatively easy opportunist try for Chris Ashton – there’s a decent sequence in the full set showing the lead up to it.
Ronan O’Gara butchering one of Munster’s best try-scoring opportunities by failing to hold on to the ball. Again, there’s a decent sequence showing this.
Thomas O’Leary scored an excellent individual try to close Munster to within a single point. I had quite a successful night, as there’s a few of this as well.
I didn’t, however, get anything of Shane Geraghty’s outrageous try at the end of the first half, even though it happened right in front of me – everyone expected him to kick the penalty as there was no time left in the half, but an audacious quick tap led to a try.
Anyway, the Saints held out under immense Munster pressure in the last few minutes – Geraghty’s penalty extended the lead to 4 points, so Munster had to go for the try.
You can see what it meant to them when the final whistle went.

The full set of photos are on my sports photography website

Claire Jones at Red Hat Photo (well, Green Hat Photo last night as Munster wear red) hired a 400mm f2.8 lens for the game (that’s her in the first photo of the full set) – her photos will be on her website at some point (not there at the time of writing), and if they’re anything like her usual standard, well worth a look.

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