Rugby Union: Elwood's gloss finish

Northampton 15 Connacht 20
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The Independent Online
Northampton prolonged their barren start to the season with a lame performance against Connacht in Pool D of the European Conference to bring an end to a week they will want to erase from the memory as soon as possible, while ebullient Connacht progress deservedly to next month's quarter-finals.

After Northampton's heavy league defeat at Newcastle on Wednesday, their coach Ian McGeechan could be digging in for a bleak winter. It was distinctly wintry at Franklin's Gardens where it poured with rain and mistakes in almost equal measure. Connacht made the most of the rain and Northampton made most mistakes.

Although it was desperately close at the end, and Northampton were hammering away at Connacht's line, neither McGeechan or his players can complain. Both Saints' tries had a touch of good fortune about them. For the first, a Northampton hand nudged a ruck ball forward from where Matt Dawson fed Gregor Townsend, who scored under the posts.

When Connacht were tiring at 20-10 Jonathan Bell failed to get downward pressure on the ball as he slid into the right corner, so Saints could have come out of the game with only Townsend's 11th-minute penalty to show for their endeavours. Add to this Townsend missing two simple penalties, as well as squandering a four-man overlap to cross the Connacht line, only to drop the ball, and you will gather that it was not Northampton's day.

Not so Connacht. Bottom of the Irish Inter-Provincial Championship they may have finished but, inspired by the mercurial Eric Elwood at outside- half, they squeezed every advantage out of Saints. Elwood put Connacht on track with a penalty before Saints made a hash of a clearance, allowing John Maher to burrow over. Even so Northampton were 10-8 ahead at the interval. But shortly thereafter Elwood changed the course of the game.

Stealing away from a scrum Elwood sold the Saints' cover a sublime dummy, then produced an inch-perfect pass to put the flanker Junior Charlie across. Seven minutes later Nigel Carolan touched down and Saints, despite Bell's try, never recovered.

Northampton: N Beal; C Moir (H Thornycroft, 75), M Allen, A Blyth (J Bell, 55), B Cohen; G Townsend, M Dawson (capt); M Volland, C Johnson, M Stewart, J Phillips, M Bayfield, S Barnes, B Pountney, D Merlin.

Connacht: W Ruane; N Barry, P Duignan, M Murphy, N Carolan; E Elwood, C McGuinness; J Maher, B Mulcahy, M Finlay (M Cahill, 70), G Heaslip (capt), M McConnell (B Jackman, 73), J Charlie, S McEntee (M Reilly, 40), B Gavin.

Referee: D Bevan (Clydach, Wales).

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