Hunterin the clear

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NORTHAMPTON'S battle to avoid relegation from League One of the Courage Clubs Championship received a welcomeboost yesterday when the versatile Ian Hunter made a try-scoring return to set up an unexpected 24-13 victory at Bristol.

The 26-year-old British Lion, whose injury-blighted career at either full-back or on the wing has been more stop-start than a London traffic jam, came through the game without any apparent ill-effect to the shoulder he dislocated last October.

Hunter, who won the last of his five England caps against Wales a year ago, ran in the first of Northampton's four tries - the others came from Matt Dawson, Harvey Thorneycroft and Matt Allen - while Paul Grayson supplied two conversions. Bristol managed only one try, from the right wing Gavin Sharp, and Mark Tainton kicked two penalties and a conversion, but Ian Patten and Kyran Bracken each had a try disallowed. Needless to say, the referee David Matthews was booed from the Memorial Ground pitch at the end.

Northampton, who trail Harlequins by only one point after being apparently doomed a few weeks ago, have a realistic glimpse of survival with five games remaining. And they will doubtless be making representations to Jack Rowell so that they can use their mighty England forwards, Tim Rodber and Martin Bayfield, during the final weeks of the league season in April.

Orrell lost their captain, the England scrum-half Dewi Morris, with a nose injury and their flanker Jeff Huxley with rib trouble at Sale, and then had victory snatched from them in injury time when Paul Turner landed a penalty from the left touchline to level the scores at 8-8.

Ironically, Turner was rescuing Sale just a week after he spurned an easier injury-time opportunity which would have put the Cheshire club and not Leicester through to the Pilkington Cup semi-finals. Earlier an Ian Wynn try and Simon Langford penalty in reply to a try by Chris Yates had given Orrell their 8-5 lead.

In League Two, Saracens appear to be within one victory of promotion following a hard-fought 23-16 win at Waterloo.