Rodber hints at rebellion

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The Independent Online
Northampton 15

Orrell 3

There was a whiff of defiance in the air at Franklin's Gardens, not only in the way Northampton disposed of a sluggish Orrell, but also afterwards in the way the Saints' captain, Tim Rodber, hinted at a possible rebellion in the England ranks.

Northampton are now one point adrift of West Hartlepool and Harlequins at the foot of the table after the boot of their outside-half, Paul Grayson, scuffed over the ashes of despair and fanned the flames of First Division survival by scoring all 15 points. But to stand any chance of avoiding the drop they need to win all three remaining matches, and win them well.

Ordinarily, injury and bans apart, they would expect to be able to draw on their full complement of first-choice players. But this is an extraordinary season, culminating in the World Cup next month, and it has spawned an unprecedented problem in the shape of an England edict restricting club appearances by World Cup squad members to two Courage League matches from the beginning of April.

Rodber, and his England colleague Martin Bayfield, had to use up one of their precious ration to help see off Orrell, but further matches at Gloucester and West Hartlepool, with a home fixture against Wasps in between, will also demand Northampton's full attention and ideally a full first- choice team.

Saints name their team to face Gloucester this evening and Rodber said: "Martin Bayfield and I will probably play against Gloucester next week. But it is a frustrating time. In the end England has to come first, but obviously at the moment that is very difficult and there may be contention later on in the month. If push comes to shove, and it's us or West Hartlepool, we are really going to have to sit down and think what we do."

At least one member of England's World Cup squad has been given dispensation to play through to the end of the season. The full-back, Ian Hunter, needs to attain match hardness after a long lay-off through a shoulder injury and Jack Rowell has acceded to the player's request. Northampton will need him, particularly if he turns electric charges through opposition defences into tries, as he almost did against Orrell.

And Northampton could conceivably call on the services of the 39-year- old Gary Pearce. The former England player, who has turned out for Buckinghamshire and Aylesbury Old Sociables (a glass of port for the team at half-time), made a surprise appearance for his old club to help them out of a propping crisis and quickly had the Saints' front row smoking. The fires have not gone out yet.

Northampton: Penalties Grayson 4; Drop goal Grayson. Orrell: Drop goal Taberner.

Northampton: I Hunter; N Beal (D Elkington,44), F Packman, M Allen, H Thorneycroft; P Grayson, A Gallagher; M Volland, A Clarke, G Pearce, J Phillips, M Bayfield, P Walton, T Rodber (capt), B Pountney.

Orrell: S Taberner; A Healey, I Wynn, P Johnson, J Naylor; G Ainscough, D Morris (capt); P Winstanley, M Scott, J Cundick, C Cooper, C Brierley, J Huxley, S Bibby, P Manley (A Jackson, 77).

Referee: B Campsall (Halifax).