Northampton edged out by Cardiff in EDF thriller

Northampton Saints missed out on joining Guinness Premiership rivals Gloucester in the final of the EDF Energy Cup as they were edgedout 5-11 by Cardiff Blues in a high-tempo semi-final at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry this evening.

Northampton, who won the EDF Energy National Trophy last season, gave themselves every chance of a return trip to Twickenham when centre Joe Ansbro crossed for their only try early in a pulsating second half.

Saints played some dazzling rugby at times in the more entertaining of the day’s semi-finals. But they could not convert further pressure into more points and a missed penalty chance from replacement fly-half Barry Everitt prevented them from pulling level at a critical stage of the second half.

“I was disappointed for the team really to lose a game like that,” said Northampton’s director of rugby Jim Mallinder.

“Semi-finals are often close and sometimes you need a little bit of luck and you need to take your opportunities. We didn’t do that.”

But Mallinder said that he was proud of his side and the progress that they have made in the past two years. Northampton were relegated from the Guinness Premiership in 2007 but secured an immediate return to the top flight by romping through National One last season.

“I am really proud,” he said. “We have come a long way in 18 months since we were relegated and were in the First Division.

“We have improved this year as well. Even from the beginning of the season we have improved and we are moving forwards.

“We need to keep working but we have got some good young lads combined with experience.”

Cardiff, who will now meet Gloucester at Twickenham on April 18 in a fourth consecutive Anglo-Welsh final, scored a first half try through scrum-half Jason Spice but two penalties from full-back Ben Blair proved the difference.

Blair’s opening penalty came after barely a minute when Northampton were penalised for handling in a ruck after just 28 seconds.

Northampton should have been level after ten minutes but Stephen Myler was off-target with a kickable penalty chance though Blair was also off-target when Saints were penalised after a minor flare-up between the forwards.

Ben Foden, capped by England against Italy last month, looked vulnerable in defence when Cardiff tested him with a couple of awkward grubber kicks. But the full-back took his chance to shine in attack when England hooker Dylan Hartley gathered a loose ball and kicked ahead.

Foden’s pace put centre Tom Shanklin under pressure but Cardiff managed to scramble back in defence to deny the Saints.

Cardiff made no mistake when they counter-attacked with a flowing move stretching the Saints defence. Maama Molitika ignored the overlap and failed to make the line but Northampton could not halt a second surge which saw Spice skip through from close range for an unconverted try.

Northampton may have been tentative during the first half but they were a transformed side after the break. Flanker Neil Best almost got away when Roger Wilson picked up at the base of a scrum but the Saints retained possession intelligently and put Ansbro clear on the left.

The former Cambridge Blue was tackled as he stretched for the line but referee George Clancy awarded the try after television replays confirmed Ansbro grounded the ball before he made contact with the corner flag.

Myler was unable to add he conversion but Northampton almost scored again when Paul Diggin wriggled free but this time Ansbro could not collect the pass.

Cardiff responded with scorching attack from Wales wing Leigh Halfpenny who went two thirds the length of the pitch on a dazzling run. Northampton managed to halt that attack but Cardiff’s left wing Tom James cut through to create an opening for Shanklin who was bundled into touch close to the line.

But Saints’ scrum-half Lee Dickson was unable to tidy

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