Benetton Treviso 18 Northampton Saints 21
Northampton Saints claimed a narrow victory against Benetton Treviso after withstanding a late comeback from the Italians.
A late penalty try from Treviso brought the Italians to within a score of their much-fancied opponents who were forced to close shop in the final minutes to hold onto the win.
Saints led 7-3 at half-time through Phil Dowson’s try and scored twice more through Jon Clarke and Courtney Lawes but they were forced on the back foot by a score from Emiliano Mulieri and the late penalty try, with Neil Best in the sin bin.
However, the victory was still enough to send Northampton top of Pool One overnight before rivals Munster face Perpignan.
Saints were forced to work hard for their bonus point win at Franklin’s Gardens last week but any thought of repeating that were put on hold during a highly competitive first half.
The tie was delayed for more than an hour while snow was shovelled from the pitch and the late change looked to have affected Northampton far more than there hosts, judging by their performance in the first half.
Fly-half Stephen Myler missed his first attempt at goal after eight minutes before Roger Wilson handed Marius Goosen the chance to take the lead, only for the Treviso fly-half to strike the posts.
Chris Ashton’s error almost gifted Treviso a score but the Italians failed top make the most of their opportunity and the frustration soon spilled over when Lee Dixon and captain Dylan Hartley were both spoken to be referee Peter Fitzgibbon following a showing match in midfield.
However, Treviso continued to miss their chances as Goosen was wide with a drop goal and second penalty attempt before finally landing the opening points after 24 minutes after Ashton was robbed as he attempted to run out of defence.
The South African goal-kicker continued to let Northampton off the hook with another miss after 30 minutes and it was to prove costly as Saints struck just before half-time through Dowson.
Ben Foden looked Northampton’s most dangerous threat and his break sparked a try against the run of play. Ashton was twice involved before Myler’s clever cross-field kick was collected by Dowson who was awarded the score by the video official as Treviso protested. Myler converted to hand Saints a 7-3 half-time lead.
Foden should have doubled that score within a minute of the second half but after beating two defenders he lost control of the ball as he attempted to touch down with one hand and the score was ruled out.
Joe Ansbro also knocked on when handed half a chance but there was no mistake when James Downey burst through the Treviso midfield before handing the scoring pass to Clarke, who touched down under the posts.
Myler converted for 14-3 but again Treviso struck back when wing Mulieri won the race to touch down before a Tobias Botes penalty narrowed the lead to three points.
Northampton nerves looked to have been settled when Ashton’s break sent Lawes over for their third score which Shane Geraghty converted.
But the home side produced a late rally and after Goosen was held up over the line, Best was sent to the sin bin for a professional foul and moments later, Treviso’s scrum used the extra man to their advantage to gain a penalty try.
Botes converted but it was not enough to secure victory.