Rugby Union: Edinburgh lack strength to handle Mendez touch

Northampton 32 Edinburgh Reivers 8
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IT COULD have ended in tears, but thanks to the expenditure of a lot of blood and sweat Northampton now have to redouble their superlative efforts in Part II of their back-to-back confrontation with Edinburgh Reivers on Friday evening if they are to keep alive their hopes of reaching the knock-out stages of the Heineken Cup.

If Saints had lost to Reivers, who had arrived at Franklin's Gardens as unbeaten leaders of Pool Six, then that particular dimension of their season would have been over. That it is not is pleasing, but it came at a price.

Their England fly-half, Paul Grayson, barely had time to pass Roger Hosen's career mark of 1,466 points before he was limping out of the affray having felt a click in his left knee and then a lot of pain. How long he will remain hors de combat is anyone's guess, although a scan yesterday may reveal the problem, but he may well miss out on the return match.

Never mind, Matt Dawson stood in for him with aplomb. The England scrum- half moved out to stand-off as Grayson hobbled off stage left and within a couple of minutes had moved centre stage himself, slotting the first of his three penalties. The kicker is dead; long live the kicker. His new role at fly-half proved a pair of slippers so comfortably did Dawson fit into it.

And there was more good news for Saints with the return to action of the Powerhouse Puma, front row specialist Federico Mendez. Mind you he had to wait an hour or more before trotting on for his first appearance of the season, having clearly fully recovered from the Achilles injury that had threatened his career and forced him to miss the World Cup.

He replaced a great prospect at hooker in Steve Walter. The youngster - he is still only 21 - was outstanding. Great hands, sharp brain and he threw his 6ft 2in, 17st 8lb frame around the loose as if it were half the size, while still doing his stuff at the set pieces. What with Budge Pountney putting his body on the line at every opportunity and Pat Lam and Don Mackinnon similarly hammering into Reivers whenever necessary the Scots found themselves on the back foot pretty much all the way through.

And if there was any sense of relief among the Reivers when Walter finally went off after 62 minutes it was short-lived, since it unleashed Mendez, the Pampas Bull, who has spent the last eight weeks of inactivity giving private tuition to Walter. And the apprentice was able to witness the theory turned into practice when Mendez scored Saints' third try during a 30-minute display of how to be a real pain in the loose to the rapidly tiring Scots.

Edinburgh had threatened early on, most notably through their backs who were slick and quick. Their fly-half, Chris Paterson, really looked the part, one long flat pass found Derrick Lee and so fast on to the ball was he that much of the Saints defence peeled open like over-ripe fruit. Fortunately there was a hard core which just managed to keep out the full- back.

But that was just about it until Paterson's quick-witted try midway through the second half. Edinburgh just did not have Northampton's strength and organisation up-front, or their invention and cutting edge in the backs, where Allan Bateman was outstanding.

His searing pace and cute angles had Reivers in all sorts of trouble and only their sterling defensive work, magnificent throughout, maintained any kind of control, however tenuous, on the scoreline.

The Saints front five were never bettered and prop Garret Pagel scored the first try. In-form wing Jon Sleightholme, who is looking to be back to his bullish best, scored his third try in two games then came the Mendez touch and Northampton had rescued their European season.

Northampton: Tries Pagel, Sleightholme, Mendez; Conversion Dawson; Penalties Grayson 2, Dawson 3.

Edinburgh Reivers: Try Paterson; Penalty Lee.

Northampton: N Beal; J Sleightholme (C Moir, 63), A Bateman (A Norther, 79), M Allen, B Cohen; P Grayson (J Bramhall, 15), M Dawson; G Pagel (M Volland, 33-40 & 76), S Walter (F Mendez, 63), M Stewart, A Newman (J Phillips, 72), R Metcalfe, D Mackinnon, P Lam (capt), B Pountney.

Edinburgh Reivers: D Lee (S Lang, 79); C Murray, A Tait, G Shiel (capt), C Sharman (K Milligan, 79); C Paterson, I Fairway (G Burns, 76); B Stewart, S Scott (G McKelvey, 74), M Proudfoot (A Jacobsen, 74), N Hines (G Hayter, 74), I Fulguration, C Mather, C Hogged, G Dall (I Sinclair, 21).

Referee: J Dume (France).