Rugby Union: Allen's double take

Northampton 30 Gloucester 11
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The Independent Online
THIS WAS everything and more that one would expect from a cup tie involving an in-form Saints and Gloucester, losing semi-finalists for the last two years. The commitment to attacking rugby from both sides made for a thrilling spectacle of fast-paced running rugby and it was only the equal excellence of the defences that kept the scoreline at 3- 0 in the first 30 minutes.

However, between then and the break the Saints posted 17 points which decided the game. Gloucester rugby, with its reserves of passion, lends itself to cup action, but Northampton are undefeated this year and playing exhilarating rugby. Even the loss of Gregor Townsend to Scottish international duty failed to stop them throwing the ball across the pitch in the ceaseless search for weaknesses in the Gloucester line.

Paul Grayson continues to stand flat and spread the ball, but the decision to do this must be all the easier for having the excellent Matt Allen in the centre. His running is direct and powerful, often taking more than one tackler to bring him down, and he scored the first try in the 35th minute to add to Grayson's earlier penalty.

Minutes later a Grayson drop-goal extended the lead to 13-0 to complete a period of play in which the Saints, marshalled by Matt Dawson at scrum- half, kept the ball alive for third- and fourth-phase ball, the slick handling of the forwards allowing the ball to be recycled quickly.

Allen added another try on the interval, his power and ability to drive forward even with defenders hanging around his legs taking him over the line.

And yet the first 30 minutes had been nip and tuck. Both sides had drives and breaks held up over the line or knocked on the final pass. Gloucester predominantly threatened through the inventive Mark Mapletoft at fly-half and the centres Terry Fanolua and Richard Tombs.

In a rare match where both No.10s were English-qualified there was little to choose between them. Grayson, the incumbent in the England side selected his options wisely, kicking only when he could force Gloucester to back pedal. One pass in particular stood out, a two-man miss when he saw the Gloucester defence had bunched together in midfield; the receiving winger Ben Cohen sprinted to the line but was just unable to score.

Gloucester, spirited to the end, fought hard and must rue the opportunities wasted through forward passes and knock-ons, but the Saints started to dominate in the forwards, where every drive and maul was orchestrated by the South African Garry Pagel.

Mike Lloyd scored a late consolation try for Gloucester but only after the Saints full-back, 19-year-old Richard Jackson, had completed an assured debut with a well-taken try.

Northampton: R Jackson; B Cohen, A Northey, M Allen, H Thorneycroft; P Grayson, M Dawson; G Pagel, A Clarke, M Hynes (M Volland, 55), J Phillips, T Rodber, D MacKinnon (S tatupu, 78), B Pountney, G Seeley (M Bayfield, 78).

Gloucester: C Catling; R Jewell, T Fanolua, R Tombs, M LLoyd; M Mapletoft, S Benton ( Lbeck, 28); A Powles, Chris Fortey, P Vickery (M Cornwell, 65), R Fidler, S Sims (A Deacon, 65), S Devereux, P Glanville, S Ojomoh.

Referee: S Piercey (Yorkshire).