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French champions Castres inflicted a 19-13 defeat on Northampton in their opening Pool One Heineken Cup match at Stade Pierre Antoine.
Dylan Hartley claimed a try but Saints lacked the firepower to overcome the hosts, Steven Myler kicking a conversion and two penalties to at least ensure Saints left with a losing bonus point.
Saints dominated during the first 25 minutes of the game, getting all the possession they wanted but not being able to break a strong and aggressive French defence line.
And they gifted Castres their first try when Romain Martial ran back an interception almost the full length of the field after 11 minutes.
Despite having all the ammunition they could ask for and Courtney Lawes dominating at the lineout, with two steals in the first 15 minutes, Northampton's flat attacking line could find no solution. Only Myler was able to get on the board with the boot after 31 minutes.
The French side fed on their opponents' mistakes and Rory Kockott was able to add a penalty two minutes before half-time and Ben Foden was sent to the bin in the last period of play.
Kockott increased the French champions' lead four minutes into the second half with a another kick to goal.
Northampton then had to show great resilience to get back in the game in the second half, which started in similar fashion. However, after a series of rolling mauls and lineouts, Hartley was able to take advantage of a Castres fumble and score. Myler converted and Saints were within three points.
Kockott immediately added three points to his personal tally after a penalty given away at the breakdown by Christian Day.
Both teams struggled to inject rhythm and pace into the game after the hour mark, Saints making too many mistakes and poor decisions to convert their territorial domination into points.
Myler and Kockott traded further kicks before Castres' South African scrum-half opened some breathing space with another kick eight minutes from time.
That set up a thrilling climax as Northampton threw everything into salvaging a winning try, yet despite sustained pressure deep inside Castres territory, Saints came up short.
Castres move on to take on Leinster in Dublin next week.
|Sunday 19th January|
|Clermont Auvergne 28 - 3 Racing Metro 92|
|Scarlets 20 - 22 Harlequins|
|Perpignan 18 - 36 Gloucester|
|Munster 38 - 6 Edinburgh|
|Saturday 18th January|
|Leicester 19 - 22 Ulster|
|Montpellier 24 - 6 Benetton Treviso|
|Glasgow 8 - 15 Toulon|
|Cardiff Blues 13 - 19 Exeter|
|Saracens 64 - 6 Connacht|
|Zebre 6 - 16 Toulouse|
|Friday 17th January|
|Northampton 13 - 3 Castres|
|Leinster 36 - 3 Ospreys|
Read the thoughts and opinions of Stuart Barnes with skysports.com