Rugby Union: Back earns badge of honour

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Northampton. .12

Leicester. . .13

THIS game was won in stunning fashion when Leicester scored a converted try well into injury- time. Northampton, who might be described as the soul of English rugby, not to mention the sole, had led for 80 minutes. Was justice done? Probably not but it did make for an enthralling finish.

Northampton and Leicester were level in second place in the League yesterday morning so it was always going to be a close game. It is a relief to report that after a bruising, furious game only one player was injured - Wayne Shelford, who strained a hamstring.

One saw the past, present and future of English rugby at Franklins Gardens. Dean Richards was the past, heretical as it might be to say it; Rory Underwood and Martin Bayfield were the present; and the future surely was represented by the industrious Neil Back, despite recent remarks by Geoff Cooke, the watching England manager, about his lack of height. Back's badges of honour yesterday included charging down an attempted drop goal and scoring a try.

Urged on by a jazz band, the Saints started as if they were the only team on the field. For 20 minutes they won almost every line- out, making Leicester look at least one yard off the pace. Frank Packman scored a well-worked try and Shelford kicked an improbable up-and-under from the right touchline that nearly ended in another try for Northampton. At this stage all was well in their world.

Leicester, however, are too good for such torpor to last. It took a 50-yard burst by John Olver, stopped only by a Rory Underwood tackle, to galvanise them. Even so Northampton scored another try, this time by Harvey Thorneycroft, and now led 12-3.

Leicester's fiery front row were at war with Northampton's. Both the full-backs, John Liley and John Steele, missed kicks. Shelford went off presumably thinking the day was won. Liley then landed a penalty. Northampton conceded three more and moments later Tony Underwood nearly broke clear. Whereas Northampton had looked winners hitherto, one now sensed Leicester might snatch it.

The all-action play of their forwards and backs was beginning to tell and at last they were winning some line-outs too. One minute into injury time Jez Harris wriggled towards Northampton's line and Back scored. Liley's kick was far from a certainty on previous form, but on this occasion was good enough to give Leicester their sixth victory in eight League games. They'll never win a closer one, that is for sure.

Northampton: J Steele; J Griffiths, N Beal, F Packman, H Thorneycroft; S Tubb, M Dawson; G Baldwin, J Olver (capt), G Pearce, J Etheridge, M Bayfield, P Walton, T Rodber, W Shelford (D Merlin, 66 min).

Leicester: J Liley; T Underwood, S Potter, I Bates, R Underwood; J Harris, A Kardooni; G Rowntree, R Cockerill, D Garforth, M Johnson, M Poole, J Wells (capt), N Back, D Richards.

Referee: E Morrison (RFU).

Scorers: Packman/Steele (try/con, 8 min, 7-0); Liley (pen, 26 min, 7-3); Thorneycroft (try, 55 min, 12-3); Liley (pen, 66 min, 12-6); Back/Liley (try/con, 81 min, 12-13).