RUGBY UNION: Jackson snatches late win to leave Saints on edge of drop

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Northampton's last-minute 21-20 loss to Saracens at Franklin's Gardens yesterday has left them two points adrift at the unpleasant end of the Zurich Premiership table, after Harlequins pulled a surprise 38- 9 home hammering of Gloucester out of the bag.

That makes a weekend when two of the bottom four won and the other two, after Worcester's 22-15 win over Leeds on Friday, collected losing bonus points. That, in turn, leaves Leeds on 26 points, Worcester and Quins on 25 and Northampton bottom on 23. London Irish, indeed, have only 27 points. One way or another, it will all take some sorting out before May.

At Franklin's Gardens Saracens' Kiwi stand-off Glen Jackson swiped an important win from the Saints' grasp with an 80th-minute penalty. The centre Dan Harris scored a try for the visitors, who were also awarded a penalty try. Jackson kicked 11 points in all. Paul Diggin and Corne Krige scored tries for the home side and Shane Drahm kicked 10 points, including a late penalty of his own.

At The Stoop, Quins survived a red card for their Samoan hooker Ace Tiatia, for throwing a punch at the Gloucester prop Terry Sigley, to gain a valuable five points. Their tries came from James Hayter, Tom Williams and Simon Keogh with two, with the latter's fellow Irishman Jeremy Staunton adding 18 points. Henry Paul kicked three penalties in reply.

As current rules stand, the bottom team will be relegated to National Division One if the champions of that league - most likely Bristol - satisfy the Premiership's onerous entry requirements.

Much, though, may depend on who eventually finishes last. One more conspiracy- tinged school of thought suggests that in a season of rising attendances and even operating profits at some clubs, nobody is going to go unless it is Leeds or Worcester, relatively expendable newcomers both. Either Bristol will come up for a 13-team competition, the theory goes, or they will be kept out by the small print.

However, nothing can ever be taken for granted in the Premiership and an absorbing struggle to avoid relegation or a lengthy legal battle - or both - looms.

At Kingston Park this afternoon Mark Mayerhofler and Epi Taione replace England's Jamie Noon and Mathew Tait for Newcastle and Wasps replace Josh Lewsey and Matt Dawson with Michael Roberts and Harvey Biljon. In Reading, Sale parachute the Spanish flier Oriol Ripol into their side to play the Irish.

New Zealand won their own leg of the IRB Sevens circuit yesterday in Wellington with a 31-7 win over Argentina, to open up a lead in the overall standings after England lost to Scotland in the semi-finals of the plate competition. Australia, however, won that.

Nine second-half tries rounded off the England women's team's 81-0 rout of Wales on Friday. The English meet France at the Metropolitan Police's Imber Court home on Sunday.

Routine, Time-Off, page 10