Rugby Union / Courage League: Swift soars after midfield magic: Bath regain footing on the high ground while Harlequins sew it up with a no-frills pattern

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The Independent Online
Northampton. . . . . .9

Bath. . . . . . . . .30

NEVER mind those fluttering Five Nations flags. As England wait their turn, league life goes on and business was booming here. At least, big crowds apart, it was for Bath. Three tries inside the first half-hour said it all, last week's less-than-champion performance against Bristol best forgotten.

'We need to get back to the high standards we've been setting ourselves this season,' John Hall, the Bath captain, said. It sounded like a warning and it was, which was bad news for Northampton. Minus the injured Tim Rodber and John Olver and with Neil Edwards on duty for the Scots in Cardiff, they slipped and slithered to their sixth Courage defeat in seven matches.

As the watching Olver said: 'We may be in the right mood to beat Bath, but we are probably not in the right form.' Even the mood looked a trifle suspect once Bath had settled in. They lost at Franklin's Gardens last season, remember, so you had to say in any case that there was really no danger of lightning striking twice.

Indeed, just about the biggest roar from Saints' supporters came early in the second half when it was announced that the Northampton youth team had just beaten their Bath counterparts. Oh well, one of these days perhaps someone will emerge good enough to knock the West Country giants from their regular perch.

As it was, this was a hard, old match with bodies littered everywhere as it progressed. Most seriously from the Saints' point of view was the loss of their scrum-half Matthew Dawson just after the hour. A tapped line-out ball from Martin Bayfield set him up for a clattering from Graham Dawe.

By then, though, there was little doubting the winners even if the Saints did manage to keep a grip following the break. The problem was that they had made such a bad start, or rather that Bath had begun so positively they just made the points theirs.

Within half a dozen minutes, they were on their way to their 10th win in 11 outings, a Stuart Barnes miss-pass sending Jonathan Callard on a 40-yard gallop to set up a line-out deep in Saints territory. Back came the ball for some midfield magic, which ended when Callard put Tony Swift over. When the Saints, who like taking it low, collapsed a scrum as Bath went for a pushover, the referee awarded a penalty try. That was some sort of poetic justice, and a quarter of an hour later, Bath were celebrating again when Richard Hill sent in Phil de Glanville on the blind side of a ruck. Which left Callard and John Steele swapping penalties and Swift to round things off with his second try.

Northampton: Penalties Steele 3. Bath: Tries Swift 2; penalty try, De Glanville; Conversions Callard 2; Penalties Callard 2.

Northampton: I Hunter; K Morgan, J Fletcher, M Fielden, N Beal; J Steele (capt), M Dawson (B Taylor, 63); G Baldwin, A Clarke, G Pearce, J Phillips, M Bayfield, P Walton, M Steffert, C Millhouse.

Bath: J Callard; T Swift, M Catt, P de Glanville (I Sanders, 40-42), A Adebayo; S Barnes, R Hill; C Clark, G Dawe, V Ubogu, M Haag, A Reed, S Ojomoh, B Clarke (C Atkins, 8-14), J Hall (capt).

Referee: D Matthews (St Helens).