Rugby Union: Andrew makes the difference

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Northampton. .15

Wasps. . . . .17

THE bald facts of this match paint a grim picture: 27 points from the boot and a solitary try scored by a lumbering second- row forward from a rolling maul. But in the full-blooded flesh it was a riveting match of high tension, the lead see-sawing between two skilful sides.

When the whistle blew, the Londoners' end happened to be up. It leaves them still in sight of the league leaders with a game in hand.

Northampton came out of the trap like hungry hounds keen to slaughter the hare. They tore forward, building up an apparently unbeatable lead. If they could not break the Wasps defence by scoring tries, they translated pressure into points with the faultless boot of outside-half John Steele.

As the fancied visitors set up blockade after blockade against the Northampton battering ram, Steele would calmly step up to kick the penalties and drop the goal. Only when his luck failed did the tide turn. He struck what seemed an easy penalty only for it to dip late and rebound off the crossbar.

From that moment, Wasps started clawing back the lead. The pack rolled a maul over a quarter of the field to collapse it over the line and score the only try. Second row Steve Shortland claimed the honour but it might have been any one of the forwards.

Then Rob Andrew picked up the burden. First, he struck a neat penalty to take Wasps within a point of the Saints. Then, a minute later, he did what he does better than anyone - dropping a goal under fierce pressure to take the lead.

Northampton bucked up to snatch the lead back with a penalty, inevitably from Steele. Then Wasps regained the lead with a penalty, inevitably from Andrew.

The London side retains some little hope of the league title. Northampton find themselves among the stragglers. They must rue the injury that keeps mighty Martin Bayfield off the field until the New Year.

Northampton: Penalties Steele 4; Drop Goal Steele. Wasps: Try Shortland; Penalties Andrew 3. Drop Goal Andrew.

Northampton: I Hunter; M Thorneycroft, F Clough, J Fletcher, N Beal; J Steele, M Dawson; G Baldwin, J Olver (capt), G Pearce, G Webster, S Foale, P Walton (P Pask 62 min), M Steffert, D Merlin.

Wasps: A Buzza; H Davies, D Hopley, G Childs, P Hopley; R Andrew, S Bates; G Holmes, K Dunn, J Probyn, R Kinsey, S Shortland, M Greenwood, D Ryan (capt), M White.

Referee: T Spreadbury (Somerset).