Rugby Union: Lyle's classy effort brings Saints to their knees

Bath 52 Northampton 14
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The Independent Online
Dan Lyle is blessed with such a range of rugby talents that he is perfectly capable of playing up to Test scratch in any one of five forward positions. But connoisseurs of back-row creativity regard it as scandalous that Bath should even consider wasting his energies in the engine room.

If truth be told, the athletic American from Virginia is in complete sympathy with that argument. He may have made the decisive contribution against Harlequins last month from the infernal depths of the second row but that was nothing compared to the quality of his effort on the blind- side flank yesterday. Northampton simply did not know what to do with him.

Given the fact Jon Sleightholme scored a hat-trick of top-drawer tries to lead the assault on the outpaced Midlanders - the Recreation Ground is no place to be when six of your internationals are elsewhere - Lyle worked a minor miracle to relieve the England wing of the man of the match accolade. According to the champions' coaching team, there is much more to come.

Lyle left his most obvious imprint on Bath's record league victory over the Saints on 61 minutes, breaking heavy tackles from Matt Allen and Ian Hunter to score on the switchback after Jeremy Guscott had set up a maul deep in the opposition 22. He also ushered over his overseas colleague, Federico Mendez, five minutes from time with another gallop down the right touchline.

Yet it was during a rugged first half that the US Eagles captain earned the lions' share of his week's salary. With Mendez never far from his elbow and Martin Haag, the long-serving lock, also responding in kind, Lyle was the focal point of a forward effort that restored more than a degree of credibility to Bath's hitherto faltering title challenge.

The much-hyped battle between Mike Catt and Paul Grayson, rivals for the England outside-half position against Scotland in 12 days' time, failed to happen. Grayson was off the field before the half-hour with an icepack attached to a damaged left cheekbone. At that point Bath were 5-3 ahead courtesy of Sleightholme's opening long-range strike but Nick Beal, moving inside from the right wing, suffered an uncomfortable ride as the make- do outside-half and the home side took full advantage.

Jon Callard's relentless goal-kicking gave Bath some clear blue water, and when Catt charged down Beal's over-ambitious chip on 45 minutes to score beneath the posts, the remainder of the encounter was always going to prove painful for the visitors.

Bath: Sleightholme 3, Catt, Lyle, Mendez; Conversions Callard 5; Penalties Callard 4. Northampton: Try McNaughton; Penalties Grayson, Beal 2.

Bath: J Callard; J Sleightholme, P de Glanville (capt), J Guscott, A Adebayo; M Catt, I Sanders; F Mendez, G Dawe, V Ubogu (J Mallett, 59), M Haag, N Redman, D Lyle, S Ojomoh, A Robinson.

Northampton: I Hunter; N Beal, R McNaughton, M Allen, H Thorneycroft; P Grayson (D Malone, 28), B Taylor; M Volland, C Johnson, M Hynds, J Chandler, J Phillips, S Tatupu (capt), G Seely, J Cassell.

Referee: S Lander (Liverpool).

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