How Cobblers fell on their feet

Northampton are up and running after their relegation. David Llewellyn saw them defeat London Scottish 54-11
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A lot of old cobblers has been spouted this season about playing an open expansive game. At Northampton they don't waste time shooting the breeze, they go out and blast aside their Second Division rivals with the brand of running rugby that so many aspire to but so few manage.

They have come a long way since the fall from the First Division last season.

Firstly, all the key players decided to stick with the club and help them bounce straight back. Secondly, the squad returned for pre-season training a month earlier than usual and got themselves fit. Thirdly, masterminded by Ian McGeechan, they worked out how they wanted to play the game. The result is an awesome record, a stunning and entertaining style of play, leadership of the Second Division and massive support.

Generally crowds are around 5,000 - there were 7,500 for the visit of second-placed London Scottish - to watch the Saints march all over their opponents to the tune of eight tries and an average of 52 points per game, while conceding a steady 11. But this is a far from average club. There are plenty in the First Division who would not withstand their dynamism.

They are not where they are simply by being big fish in a little pond. Today's Pilkington Cup fourth-round draw will have top sides keeping their fingers crossed that they avoid being pitched against Northampton, home or away.

It is a very different side from that which was relegated. There has been an injection of verve in the backs - Scots Gregor Townsend and Michael Dods and Ireland's Jonathan Bell - and a far harder attitude. "I'm not interested in anyone walking out there on the field," McGeechan said, "they've got to be running for 80 minutes."

The former Scotland and British Lions player and coach underlined the major changes that have taken place. "We are far more dynamic," McGeechan explained. "We work harder, we are much fitter and the players are thinking on the right lines. I changed tactically what I wanted us to do and I think everyone is more comfortable with it."

Everyone except their opponents. Throughout a match that could have been a Scotland trial, there were so many of them involved - even one of the touch judges had the surname Airdrie - the Exiles tried to keep up but eventually they cracked. Grant Seely and Harvey Thorneycroft had already run in first-half tries, then scrum-half Matt Dawson burst through from a 50thminute tap penalty to himself. The dam burst right about then.

Wave after wave of attacks brought a flood of points. Scottish had no answer to the rapid rucking and high-class handling of the 15 Saints. Five more tries followed, including a hat-trick for Scotland centre Townsend. All but one of the tries were converted by fly-half Paul Grayson.

Saints' policy of running every kickable penalty - "I'm quite happy to forgo three points, if it gives the players confidence to attack with the ball in hand," McGeechan said - apart from exhausting the opposition, gives Grayson little opportunity of scoring with the boot, so it is in his interests to get his backs going, then he can add the conversion to the resultant tries. It works.

Northampton: Tries Seely, Thorneycroft 2, Dawson, Townsend 3, Phillips; Conversions Grayson 7. London Scottish: Try Signorini; Penalties Russell 2.

Northampton: M Dods; N Beal, G Townsend, M Allen, H Thorneycroft; P Grayson, M Dawson; M Volland, T Beddow, M Hynes, J Phillips, M Bayfield, T Rodber (capt) (D Merlin, 71), B Pountney, G Seely.

London Scottish: G Fraser; T Watson, F Harrold, R Eriksson (S Pearson, 40), M Sly; C Russell, T Withers-Green; D Signorini, L Mair, P Burnell, A Nesbitt, D Orr-Ewing, M Duthie, S Holmes (capt), I Morrison.

Referee: B Campsall (Halifax).

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