Northampton Saints 33 Benetton Rugby 20: Tom Vickers' review and player ratings

Teimana Harrison had a big influence once again
Teimana Harrison had a big influence once again

It wasn't the way Saints wanted to get there, but the key thing was that they got there in the end.

Had you offered the black, green and gold a bonus-point win against Benetton on Sunday, they would have snapped your hand off.

The problem was the way it was delivered as they were forced to overcome several bumps in the road before finally seeing off the plucky PRO14 side.

Saints were so unusually poor during the first period, making more errors than they have done for the majority of the season.

They just could not get anything to stick, aside from a joyous sixth-minute score for the returning Harry Mallinder.

It was a rare bright spot during a gloomy first half, in which Benetton spent about a minute in Saints territory yet somehow scored 10 points.

And because of the home side's error-strewn showing, it meant the men from Italy were able to boast a shock 10-5 lead, harbouring hopes they could claim an historic win.

It wasn't to be in the end as Saints, clearly given an ear-bashing at half-time, finally managed to banish some of the sloppiness that had blighted them during the first 40 minutes.

When they stayed patient and built up pressure in the Benetton 22, it only seemed a matter of time before they would score.

And so it proved.

They eventually racked up a total of five tries, providing them with a crucial five points in the race to make the Champions Cup quarter-finals.

And though, at times, the Benetton display was extremely tough to watch, Saints eventually got the Italian job done.

As in any competition, it is not the journey that matters, it is the destination.

Saints needed to win with a bonus point - and they did it.

If you had told them at the start of the Champions Cup campaign they would be in a position to make the last eight come the final game of the pool stages, they would have been overjoyed.

Especially because they are in a pool with a Leinster team that has been close to invincible so far this season.

The next stop for Saints is Lyon, where they will probably need a win to secure a last-eight spot.

It is an exciting occasion for Chris Boyd's side, who will know they must step things up significantly.

The black, green and gold have not won in France since Jim Mallinder's team defeated Castres in January 2011 on the way to the Heineken Cup final.

Eleven onerous encounters have come and gone, all ending in defeat, as Saints have been made to suffer across the Channel.

But with Lyon already out and with Top 14 title ambitions now their full priority, the hosts may step off the accelerator a little this Saturday.

Nevertheless, no matter who they field, Lyon will be a hugely difficult proposition on home soil.

They have a budget that allows for an array of talent, and they will undoubtedly pose a far tougher test than a limited Benetton team did on Sunday.

Consequently, there can be no more stumbles from Saints.

They need to regain their trademark accuracy, which has been drilled into them since Boyd took over.

And they will just be so grateful that they get one final huge chance to show what the real Saints are made of in a massively meaningful match at the Matmut Stadium on Saturday.

How they rated...
HARRY MALLINDER

A tidy return from the back as he bagged an early score and looked comfortable on what was a big occasion for him after 15 months out... 6.5

OLLIE SLEIGHTHOLME
Saints were desperate for some energy during the first half and the wing provided it, taking that bounce into the second half with some lovely scything runs... 7

FRASER DINGWALL
Delivered a fine finish to bag Saints their bonus point and always tried to forge openings, even if Benetton made it tough for him with their physicality... 7

RORY HUTCHINSON
Was always probing for an opening and finally managed to get some joy during the second half... 7

TAQELE NAIYARAVORO - CHRON STAR MAN
The big man carried his team forward in fine fashion, making more metres and carries than any other player on the field and beating 14 defenders... 7.5

JAMES GRAYSON
Wasn't able to get the kind of control he would have wanted as things just didn't quite click at times, but kicked four of his five conversions... 6

HENRY TAYLOR
Grabbed a crucial try during the second half of what was a tough game for the scrum-half, whose passing wasn't as accurate as usual... 6

FRANCOIS VAN WYK
A big showing from the prop, who etched his name on the scoresheet with a fine finish and who carried time and again for his team... 7.5

SAM MATAVESI
Not an easy encounter for the hooker as Saints' lineout failed to function during the first half, but you can't blame it all on him and he tried to respond in open play... 5

PAUL HILL
Got stuck in defensively, making a decent amount of tackles for his team, and he helped Saints to stay strong in the scrum... 6.5

API RATUNIYARAWA
Was a very useful presence for Saints as he tried to outmuscle Benetton, being used as a battering ram close to the away side's line... 6.5

DAVID RIBBANS
Didn't have much time to make an impact as he was forced off with an injury after just 23 minutes... 5

COURTNEY LAWES
Was clearly not 100 per cent due to illness and also seemed to take a knock during a physical first half before coming off at the break... 5.5

LEWIS LUDLAM
Rarely disappoints and he was in good form again here, breaking the Benetton line on a few occasions, beating eight defenders and showing real physicality... 7.5

TEIMANA HARRISON
Kept ploughing on for Saints, desperately trying to inject some dynamism into his team as he battled bravely... 7.5

Replacements (who played more than 40 minutes)
ALEX COLES (for Ribbans 23)

Got through 10 tackles without missing one as he tried to make an impact on the game, showing his talent again... 7

MITCH EADIE (for Lawes 40)
Conceded a few turnovers but was not short of appetite, trying his best to help Saints turn things around... 6.5

JAMES FISH (for Matavesi 56)
Helped to steady the Saints ship, showing his precision and class again in a welcome return... 7

COBUS REINACH (for Taylor 56)
Had a huge impact on the game, bagging three try assists after coming off the bench and constantly causing problems for Benetton... 7.5

ANDY SYMONS (for Mallinder 56)
Grabbed a try for his team and was a real driving force during the second half as he displayed a defensive hunger and attacking appetite... 7

Taqele Naiyaravoro carried the fight to Benetton

Taqele Naiyaravoro carried the fight to Benetton

Cobus Reinach helped to change the game

Cobus Reinach helped to change the game