Tom Pearson scores hat-trick as Northampton punish pitiful Bayonne in Champions Cup

Northampton Saints flanker Tom Pearson celebrates scoring his second try against Bayonne
Tom Pearson did his England claims no harm albeit against poor oppposition - Getty Images/Ben Stansall

Northampton 61 Bayonne 14

Northampton Saints marched straight into the knockout stages of the Champions Cup with Tom Pearson scoring a hat-trick of tries against a Bayonne team whose lack of effort and application were a complete embarrassment to the competition.

While Saints delivered a nine-try performance that would have interested England selectors - the watching attack coach Richard Wigglesworth would have left Franklin’s Gardens with a full notebook - it was hard not to look good against a Bayonne side who were quite frankly abysmal. They should really be disqualified from future qualification because this type of surrender damages the integrity of the Champions Cup.

Still Northampton, the Premiership leaders, looked good in administering their shellacking which was the perfect encapsulation of attack coach Sam Vesty’s vision for the team. Tommy Freeman repeatedly came off his wing to devastating effect while Fin Smith kicked eight out of nine conversions, nearly all from the touchline. “I am always going to be biased but I think our lads are in a rich vein of form and playing really well,” Phil Dowson, the Northampton director of rugby, said. “Steve had got lots and lots of decisions to make.”

One player no longer in England contention was Courtney Lawes, who in recent weeks performed his own mini tour de France in recent weeks visiting Brive, Montpellier and Provence. He did his negotiation power no harm with a typical lung-busting effort to save a try before scoring himself.

Bayonne fulfilled pretty much every cliche there is about indifferent French sides not fancying it much on this side of La Manche. Northampton scored straight from the opening kick off as centre Rory Hutchinson kicked down the touchline for Tommy Freeman to score. After that it appeared tackling became an optional extra for Bayonne, who, somewhat astonishingly, are unbeaten at home in the Top 14 in two years.

Northampton Saints wing Tommy Freeman celebrates his try against Bayonne
Northampton Saints wing Tommy Freeman scored the first try of the rout - Getty Images/Ben Stansall

Indeed they appeared intent on helping Northampton with their qualification as hooker Facundo Bosch overthrew a lineout that Alex Coles batted back to Pearson to crash over. Pearson quickly scored a second as Freeman again carved his way through the middle of the French defensive line with ease before the flanker powered through a couple of soft inside shoulders.

There was the smallest glimpse of an opening when veteran scrum Maxime Machenaud pulled off an intercept but he was hunted down by Freeman before Lawes swooped over the ball to force the penalty. From the subsequent set piece, Fraser Dingwall put Hutchinson through a hole. The centre was tackled short of the line but Saints reloaded for Lawes to wrap up the bonus point try by 26 minutes. Anyone in earshot of the Bayonne coaching box was given a quick crash course in profusive French swearing.

Courtney Lawes scores a try for Northampton against Bayonne
Courtney Lawes scored the try that secured the bonus points - PA/Bradley Collyer

Saints maintained their point-a-minute scoring for the rest of the half as Curtis Langdon was driven over from a maul with almost embarrassing ease before prop Alex Waller also burrowed over from close range following a tap penalty.

Pearson and Waller both crossed early in the second half before Northampton finally took their foot off the gas and decided to do defence practice. The dam eventually burst with Tom Spring and Aurelien Florian Callandret scoring barely deserved tries either side of replacement Tom James’ well worked try.

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