Castres demolish Saints
These Anglo-French rivals know each other well having met in the European Rugby Champions Cup pool stages in three successive seasons from 2011.
And Castres made sure they responded to defeat at Leinster last week by maintain home success in this fixture with five tries as David Smith (twice), Antoine Tichit, Alexandre Bias and Antoine Dupont all crossed to inflict a record defeat on Saints. Their 34 point winning margin overtook the 33 Northampton had lost by against Montferrand (2001/02) and Leinster (2013/14).
It was a painful return back to earth for Saints, despite the return of England captain Dylan Hartley, following their last-gasp win over Montpellier last week as a late James Wilson try was all they could muster.
Castres' pack issued an early statement of intent with a powerful scrum and Benjamin Urdapilleta, stepped on the line by a wonderful George North tackle, swept over two kicks.
Louis Picamoles was denied a try on 19 minutes and Castres lock key-man Rory Kockett to a yellow card soon after. But Saints could not capitalize and No.8 Alex Tolou was the inspiration as the hosts burst clear to lead 20-0 at half-time.
Toulou made a series of bursts before setting up wing Smith for his first on 30 minutes. Kockett returned from the sin-bin and his burst upfield, halted by Ben Foden, ended with prop Tichit crashing over.
Jim Mallinder's half-time team talk failed to halt the hosts as Robert Ebersohn's clever run drew in defenders and opened space for Smith to grab his second and Urdapilleta's conversion opened a 27-0 lead just three minutes into the second half.
Saints steadied the ship and finally registered on the scoreboard seven minutes from time through Wilson after Rory Hutchinson and Paul Hill combined.
But Castres were desperate for the bonus and struck twice in the final six minutes as Smith turned provider for Bias before replacement scrumhalf Dupont raced clear.
For Castres Olympique:
Tries:Smith 2, Tichit, Bias, Dupont
Cons: Urdapilleta 3, Dumora
Pens: Urdapilleta 2
For Northampton Saints:
Yellow Card: Kockott (Castres Olympique)
Castres Olympique: 15 Geoffrey Palis, 14 Horacio Agulla, 13 Thomas Combezou, 12 Robert Ebersohn, 11 David Smith, 10 Benjamin Urdapilleta, 9 Rory Kockott, 8 Alex Tulou, 7 Anthony Jelonch, 6 Mathieu Babillot, 5 Victor Moreaux, 4 Loic Jacquet, 3 Daniel Kotze, 2 Jody Jenneker, 1 Antoine Tichit.
Replacements: 16 Brice Mach, 17 Mihaita Lazar, 18 Yohan Montes, 19 Thibault Lassale, 20 Alexandre Bias, 21 Antoine Dupont, 22 Julien Dumora, 23 Florian Vialelle.
Northampton Saints: 15 Ben Foden, 14 James Wilson, 13 Rory Hutchinson, 12 Harry Mallinder, 11 George North, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Teimana Harrison, 6 Tom Wood, 5 Michael Paterson, 4 Courtney Lawes, 3 Kieran Brookes, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Alex Waller.
Replacements: 16 Mikey Haywood, 17 Ethan Waller, 18 Paul Hill, 19 Api Ratuniyarawa, 20 Jamie Gibson, 21 Lee Dickson, 22 Nafi Tuitavake, 23 Ahsee Tuala.
Referee: Ian Davies (Wales)
Assistant referees: Simon Rees (Wales), Robert Price (Wales)
TMO: Gareth Simmonds (Wales)