Rugby Union: Ainscough on firm ground

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The Independent Online
Northampton. . . .9

Orrell. . . . . .13

IT IS the time of the season when the clear gap opens between the thoroughbreds and the also-rans. After yesterday's rain-sodden outing, Orrell and Northampton now find themselves back among the followers, destined to chase but never quite catch the league leaders.

Their best - and highly convincing - plea of mitigation would be the dismal weather. Apart from ducks and mud- wrestlers, it was a day made only for kickers and tacklers. Fortunately for Orrell, they had them in some measure while the Saints did not really have either, particularly not kickers.

In the mud of Franklin's Gardens, Orrell knocked down any significant threat of a scoring attack. The centres Paul Johnson and Matthew Farr thumped back the opposition with a vengeance.

And with rain making the ball impossible to handle, kicking was always going to be the most profitable option: Orrell had Gerry Ainscough at outside half, kicking the penalties straight and true; Northampton had Paul Grayson who managed to miss all but a simple one in front of the posts and a marginally less easy one just outside them. Only when Ian Hunter took over the duty did the Saints' place-kicking seem surer footed. But by then it was too late and a win had been swept from them.

The single try of the match fell into the rain-soaked pattern: a line-out on the Northampton line was won by Orrell and promptly turned into a maul which was then rolled over the line for a messy score.

Northampton picked themselves up somewhat as they realised any hope of league honour was slipping away. The pack revved up but when an attempt at driving a scrum over failed, the game was lost.

Northampton: I Hunter; F Packman, N Beal, J Fletcher, H Thorneycroft; P Grayson, M Dawson; G Baldwin, J Olver (capt) (Roworth, 29 min), G Pearce, G Webster, J Phillips, M Steffert, C Millhouse, T Rodber.

Orrell: S Taberner (capt); J Naylor, P Johnson, M Farr, P Hamer; G Ainscough, D Morris; S Southern, G French, M Hynes, C Cooper (Brierley, 58 min), C Cusani, P Manley, N Ashurst, D Cleary.

Referee: K Ricketts (RFU).

Scores: Ainscough (pen, 9 min, 0-3); Ainscough (pen, 16 min, 0-6); Cleary/Ainscough (try/conv, 35 min, 0-13); Grayson (pen, 39 min, 3-13); Grayson (pen, 52 min, 6-13); Hunter (pen, 73 min, 9-13).

(Photograph omitted)