Rugby Union: Grayson's boot steers Saints to safety

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The Independent Online
Northampton 30

Sale 12

Northampton gave Sale an object lesson yesterday on how judicious kicking and cast- iron discipline are ignored by rugby teams at their peril. The match was marred by a niggling battle between the two front rows, which resulted in four bookings and the sending-off of the Sale prop Andrew Smith for lifting his knee in a scrum. But Saints prevailed through heroism in defence and peerless goalkicking from Paul Grayson.

In a pulsating, fiercely contested first half Saints were 12-0 up within 18 minutes, thanks to three penalties and a drop-goal from Grayson. The England fly-half's boot was also much in evidence in open play, with a series of deliciously weighted kicks which kept Sale scurrying backwards in the first quarter.

Sale's fightback in the remainder of the half was impressive in terms of pressure and commitment but yielded nothing in the way of points, for which they only have themselves to blame. Their main area of concern is an almost embarrassing lack of a goal-kicker. Such duties fell in this match to the winger Simon Verbickas, but his lack of confidence is so acute that it came as no surprise when he yipped and fluffed two easy chances.

Sale wisely decided to run all their penalties, but their execution near the try line was betrayed by some ghastly lapses in discipline and concentration. The flanker Andrew Morris broke impressively only to provide the winger David Rees with a speeding bullet of a shoulder-high pass, which he had no chance of controlling.

But worse was to follow for Sale when a penalty under the posts was overturned after the touch-judge spotted some Sale stamping in the ruck. Then, when Sale had finally forced the ball over the line after a protracted ruck, the try was overturned for precisely the same reason.

But throughout this pressure and for the remainder of the match, Saints' defence was magnificent both in midfield and in holding up some fierce rucking on their own line. Sale's hopes were lifted briefly when Jim Mallinder finally breached the midfield to score in the second minute of the second half.

Saints dug deep and countered quickly to score another penalty and a dramatic try to put the match all but out of Sale's reach. Marauding back- row play set up a ruck deep in Sale's half and a delightful, sweeping move through the backs set up full-back Nick Beal, who coolly evaded two tackles to score in the corner. Sale's Neil Ryan scored a late consolation try but even then Saints had the final word with a last minute try from their replacement hooker, Allen Clarke.

Northampton: N Beal; C Moir, G Townsend, M Allen, H Thorneycroft; P Grayson, M Dawson; M Volland, C Johnson (A Clarke, 76), M Hynes, J Phillips, S Foale, D Mackinnon, B Pountney, T Rodber (capt).

Sale: J Mallinder (capt); D Rees, J Baxendell, G Stocks, S Verbickas; N Ryan, M Warr; P Smith (P Winstanley 26), S Diamond, A Smith (Winstanley, 8-13), D Baldwin, J Fowler, D Erskine, A Morris, C Vyvyan.

Referee: B Campsall (Halifax).

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