Northampton disguise suits all concerned

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The Independent Online
East Midlands 47 Barbarians 19

The Mobbs Memorial match, an annual feature of March at Northampton needed something to restore its credibility and fortuitous circumstances ensured that it did, even if there was a certain Barbarian embarrassment at the one-sidedness of yesterday's score, writes Steve Bale.

It was not only a rare East Midlands victory but a record for the 75- year-old fixture played in memory of Edgar Mobbs, an England captain from Northamptonshire who died at Passchendaele in 1917. Yet the rugby was more credible and creditable than anything seen in the recent non-tackling years.

The change for the better was engineered first by the Baa-Baas in selecting a team worthy of the occasion, including the reuniting of those grand old Welsh half-backs Robert Jones and Jonathan Davies, whose most recent international appearance together was in December 1988.

Then Northampton invited the East Midlands to pick their entire first team including the recuperated Ian Hunter and, since the alternative was none at all, it was easy to agree. Moreover Bedford, who normally make up the combination, were not in the least put out, since their priority is a Second Division match against Newcastle on Saturday.

Northampton, by contrast, are again without a league game because of England requirements, making it imperative in the eyes of Ian McGeechan, their director of rugby, that they used this as serious preparation even though the resumption of their procession towards the First Division does not resume until 23 March - against Bedford.

By the time the Barbarians, who ended with seven internationals (the same as Northampton) after the withdrawal of Leigh Davies and Derwyn Jones, had become mutually acquainted Northampton had as good as won the match with 21 points in the first 21 minutes. The tries by Nick Beal, Budge Pountney and Grant Seely, like all bar one of the rest, were converted by Paul Grayson.

This was not achieved by the conscious application of Barbarian-style rugby, though the way Northampton have demolished the rest of the Second Division this season happens to have been with something recognisably Barbarian.

The Barbarians got into the game with a popular try by Colin Johnson, the 43-year-old Bishop's Stortford lock who was being rewarded by the invitation club for long service though they could have spared him a partner 24 years his junior. Scott Murray was on Scotland's bench against England last Saturday.

Before half-time Seely's second try had been followed by the Baa-Baas' second, from the Ireland A wing James Topping, and after the game had lost all shape during the third quarter it was eventually illuminated again when Gregor Townsend scored two tries in a minute.

Austin Healey replied with a third try for the Barbarians but the last word, or perhaps last gasp after all the running-around they had done, was rightfully Northampton's with the seventh and final try going to Jon Phillips.

East Midlands : Tries Seely 2, Townsend 2, Beal, Pountney, Phillips; Conversions Grayson 6. Barbarians: Tries Johnson, Topping, Healey; Conversions Davies 2.

EAST MIDLANDS (Northampton unless stated): I Hunter; C Moir, G Townsend, M Allen, N Beal (H Thorneycroft, h-t); P Grayson, M Dawson (S Dowson, Towcestrians, 75); C Allen, T Beddow, M Volland (P Osborne, Towcestrians, 74), J Phillips, M Bayfield, T Rodber (capt, S Foale, 75), G Seely, A Pountney.

BARBARIANS: P Hull (Bristol); A Healey (Orrell), K McQuilkin (Bective Rangers), G Evans (Neath), J Topping (Ballymena); J Davies (Cardiff), R Jones (Swansea, capt); G Rowntree, R Cockerill, D Garforth (Leicester), C Johnson (Bishop's Stortford), S Murray (Edin burgh Academicals), C Pim (Old Wesley), B Clarke (Bath), L Dallaglio (Wasps). Replacements: J Harris (Leicester) for McQuilkin, 33; R Moon (Walsall) for Davies, 75.

Referee: D Bevan (Clydach).