Northampton set up a European 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 union’s showpiece event at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium on May 21.
Tries from England fullback Ben Foden and center 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.
Northampton coach Jim Mallinder called the result “something special.”
“I’m delighted with the lads, the first half was outstanding and they kept it going,” Mallinder told Sky Sports. “We’ve got a really good group and they’re playing well. It’s massive for the town, club, players, everyone involved. We don’t want to go to the final and lose.”
Man-of-the-match Phil Dowson highlighted Northampton’s discipline as key, with the home side conceding only one penalty in the first half, albeit one Perpignan eventually scored from.
“We’ve got there and are still unbeaten,” Dowson said. “We’re delighted with it. We played with territory and played with pressure.”
The final, he said, was “a massive challenge.”
“The ambition of the club is to be in big games and it doesn’t get any bigger than Leinster in Cardiff,” Dowson said.
Perpignan prop Perry Freshwater credited the Saints’ tactics of running the French team around the park.
“They ran us around a lot and we defended a lot,” the Kiwi-born former England prop said. “That was very smart from Northampton against us old, fat fellas. They got on top of us at the end of the game. There was a lack of discipline, but Northampton were very good on the day.”
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, outstanding flanker Dowson initially splitting the defense and 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 rugby league player then scuffed a third penalty chance.
Things went from bad to worse for the Catalan club after center Clarke took a wide Myler pass and left David Marty for dead in midfield, skinning the France international to cross for a try that 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 he was able to carry on, 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 that 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 Dowson and England lock Courtney Lawes to the defensive fore, Perpignan could find no way back into a game as their forwards were completely dominated by a gritty Northampton side.