Rugby Union: McGeechan confident despite slump

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Northampton 13 Saracens 19

For the discerning there may have been hints of the classic signs of the beleaguered manager after Northampton's beating on Saturday. Four league defeats out of five and the message from Ian McGeechan was that there was "nothing fundamentally wrong".

McGeechan needs no testimony as perhaps the world's leading rugby manager, but his assertion that Northampton have "basically got it right" sounds a little hollow.

The Scotland, Lions and Northampton coach believes it is simply a matter of taking chances. "It's not that we aren't doing good things. It's that we're not doing them at the right time," he said.

Like thumping the ball safely into touch near their own line instead of running into trouble. McGeechan's prodigy Gregor Townsend had a woeful game, opting to run the impossible and fluff the possible.

All the same, Northampton's director of rugby said criticism was unfair to "a talent like that". The problem was "he's not getting the ball where he can use it".

That may be true but Saints never looked like winning despite the narrowness of the score. There were two tries for Saracens from Ryan Constable and the magical Michael Lynagh plus a conversion and three penalties from Lynagh against a last-minute try to Northampton from Craig Moir, converted by Matt Dawson who also kicked two penalties.

But the gulf in apparent ability and power was vast. According to Tim Rodber, it is a problem of morale. "The game was there to be won but we didn't have the confidence. We didn't take chances and that's rugby suicide," the Saints captain said.

Exactly - but in the league, the difference between top and bottom turns on a few odd moments, and Northampton are currently fluffing them.

On the field, McGeechan is adamant that things will come right. His new South African import, the mighty prop Garry Pagel gave him some hope on Saturday.

Off the field, McGeechan says they have the basics right as well. The club has its own moneybags in the form of a local entrepreneur but they have not jettisoned the solid, abundant club support. It remains a town club with a good representation of solid rugby type of both sexes and all ages. There have been no flash plans that will evaporate.

So can genuinely intelligent, nice men like McGeechan and nice clubs like Northampton thrive in the hard commercial world of professional rugby? Romantics will want to say they can. Others may wonder.

Northampton: Try Moir; Penalties Dawson 2; Conversion Dawson. Saracens: Tries Constable, Lynagh; Penalties Lynagh 3.

Northampton: N Beal; H Thorneycroft, G Townsend (C Moir, 81), A Northey, E Cohen; P Grayson, M Dawson; G Pagel, G Johnson, M Stewart (M Volland, 71), J Phillips, M Bayfield (S Barnes, 81), G Seely, B Pountney, T Rodber (capt).

Saracens: D Thompson (C Chesney, 29); M Singer, R Constable, S Ravenscroft, B Daniel; M Lynagh, K Bracken; B Reidy (A Olver, 65), G Botterman (G Chuter, 65), P Wallace, P Johns, D Grewcock, F Pienaar, R Hill, T Diprose (capt).

Referee: E Morrison (Bristol).