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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.
|Friday 6th December|
|20:00||Castres vs Ospreys|
|20:00||Cardiff Blues vs Glasgow|
|Saturday 7th December|
|18:00||Northampton vs Leinster|
|13:35||Exeter vs Toulon|
|13:35||Zebre vs Saracens|
|13:35||Clermont Auvergne vs Scarlets|
|15:40||Racing Metro 92 vs Harlequins|
|18:00||Ulster vs Benetton Treviso|
|Sunday 8th December|
|15:00||Toulouse vs Connacht|
|15:00||Leicester vs Montpellier|
|12:45||Munster vs Perpignan|
|13:00||Edinburgh vs Gloucester|
|Friday 13th December|
|20:00||Ospreys vs Castres|
|20:00||Glasgow vs Cardiff Blues|
|Saturday 14th December|
|18:00||Leinster vs Northampton|
|13:35||Toulon vs Exeter|
|15:00||Saracens vs Zebre|
|18:00||Connacht vs Toulouse|
|15:40||Scarlets vs Clermont Auvergne|
|13:35||Benetton Treviso vs Ulster|
|15:40||Perpignan vs Munster|
|Sunday 15th December|
|12:45||Harlequins vs Racing Metro 92|
|15:00||Montpellier vs Leicester|
|15:00||Gloucester vs Edinburgh|
|Saturday 11th January|
|TBC||Ospreys vs Northampton|
|Sunday 20th October|
|Clermont Auvergne 23 - 16 Harlequins|
|Glasgow 20 - 16 Exeter|
|Northampton 27 - 16 Ospreys|
|Perpignan 31 - 14 Edinburgh|
|Saturday 19th October|
|Scarlets 26 - 26 Racing Metro 92|
|Munster 26 - 10 Gloucester|
|Leinster 19 - 7 Castres|
|Montpellier 8 - 25 Ulster|
|Cardiff Blues 19 - 15 Toulon|
|Zebre 6 - 33 Connacht|
|Friday 18th October|
|Leicester 34 - 3 Benetton Treviso|
|Saracens 16 - 17 Toulouse|
Read the thoughts and opinions of Stuart Barnes with skysports.com