Rugby Union: Dawson lifts Saints' spirits: Barrie Fairall looks at today's Courage League programme

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The Independent Online
EARLY days, but come this afternoon and Northampton could well be feeling the draught long before the onset of winter. League starts hardly come harsher than the one handed Saints, who kicked off and lost to Leicester, last season's runners-up, last weekend and now tackle the champions at Franklin's Gardens.

A second defeat would almost certainly destroy any thoughts Northampton might have entertained of collecting the Courage silverware. The best news for them as they face Bath is that Matt Dawson, the club's England A scrum-half who missed the trip to Welford Road, is fit to take over from Brett Taylor.

Not so good is the absence of Nick Beal, another England A player, who is suffering from a dead leg. Frank Packman, a policeman who usually patrols the wing, thus finds himself in the centre for his 300th Northampton appearance.

Strength in depth being their hallmark, Bath can afford to change their line-up to suit the circumstances. This means a call-up for Steve Ojomoh at flanker in place of Andy Robinson, and John Hall was not short of explanations when it came to justifying the move.

'Northampton's pack contains two very big England men in Martin Bayfield and Tim Rodber, plus Scotland's Paul Walton,' the Bath captain said. 'Their line-out ability is similar to Bristol's, who we beat last week, so we decided to see what a big back five could do for us by bringing in Ojomoh. That gives us Andy Reed, Nigel Redman, Ben Clarke, Ojomoh and me.'

Another example of strength in depth is the introduction of John Mallet, another forward who toured South Africa with England. He partners David Hilton in the front row in the absence of Victor Ubogu, who has a knee ligament injury. Last week against Bristol, Ubogu had another problem. 'You're boring,' Brian Campsall said. To which the England prop could very well have replied: 'You're not so funny yourself, ref.'

Bath lost at Northampton two seasons ago, but put 30 points past the Saints in each of their two meetings in the last campaign. Another victory now and we will be looking beyond the Saints for someone to push the West Country giants.

Which brings us to Wasps. With an all-out attacking policy, something they were talking about last season at Sudbury, the Londoners came out with a rush against the visiting Gloucester and scored seven tries. Dean Ryan has his own views. 'Our strategy is not designed to entertain the crowd, just to make it enjoyable for us and to win matches,' the captain said. 'If it is necessary to kick the ball in the air, we will do that.'

Against Harlequins at The Stoop, that may not be such a bad idea bearing in mind that Quins will have the scrum-half Rob Glenister at full-back, a position he occupied only once in the league last season.

Wasps apart, Leicester are still the best bet to push Bath all the way. They travel to Orrell, though, without the Underwood brothers - Rory on flying duty with the RAF in Norway and Tony taking a business examination.

Stuart Potter, the centre who toured South Africa with England this summer, will be on one wing and Andy McAdam the other. As for a tearaway, the Tigers have Neil Back back at flanker now that he is over a chest infection as they go in search of a fourth successive win over Orrell.