Rugby Union: McGeechan running out of time to rescue Saints: The arrival of former Lions coach fails to lift Northampton who are undone by a cruel late penalty. Barrie Fairall reports

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The Independent Online
HE CAME, he saw, but the conquering was put on hold for at least another week. Northampton had been looking forward eagerly to Ian McGeechan taking up his post as director of rugby, but there were no miracles here and instead of celebrating the arrival with a win, there was only the bitter disappointment of going down, 18-15, to a fourth successive league defeat.

If ever the Saints need a saint, it is now as they languish pointless at the foot of the table. Leicester, Bath and Sale had all had their say and on Saturday it was the turn of Bristol to put the boot in, Mark Tainton's 79th-minute penalty cruelly taking away even the small comfort of a draw.

This is just the sort of thing you can do without, and whatever brave noises Northampton were making after Bristol had slipped into third place, McGeechan knows he has a task on his hands to stop the rot. The contract with the club may be long term, but a quick solution is needed to rescue the Saints' season.

Enter the canny Scot, who moves house on Wednesday and just has time to unpack before Harlequins come calling at Franklins Gardens. His priorities are simple: 'Win next week just to take the pressure off the players.'

You can see his point, because next up comes a difficult trip to Orrell.

Few in rugby can be better qualified than McGeechan, twice a Lions coach and the man behind Scotland's 1990 Grand Slam, to get the Saints marching again. Which is what the club are banking on - and in a big way if rumours of a five-year contract worth pounds 400,000 are to be believed. What a pity, then, he could not have been in from the start. Instead of which: 'I've been down here only one Thursday in the last three weeks.'

Two days later and Northampton were losing to Bristol for the first time in the league. In a tryless match, the contest revolved around nothing more riveting than a goal-kicking duel between the two stand-offs; Paul Grayson, having collected all Saints' previous points, continuing the practice but finding that Tainton could go one better with six successes out of seven attempts.

'It's precisely the sort of game we wouldn't have won a year ago,' Derek Eves, Bristol's live-wire flanker and captain, said. Nor, probably, would Tainton have landed the match-winner. Here, though, he picked himself up from Tony Pountney's ludicrous late tackle and confidently sent the ball flying between the uprights.

Which left Tim Rodber, Eves's Northampton counterpart, to make the best of explaining away another reversal. 'There's no panic,' he said. 'The boys are working hard and this was a better performance than last week.' Then again: 'We've got a lot of good players here, but we've got to make it work. We've just got to get a win under our belts.'

McGeechan's view? 'We really shouldn't have lost to Bristol. We let them win without them having to do anything spectacular against us. We gave them a window of opportunity and they took it. Our commitment defensively, though, was good - 15-man rugby is about 15-man defence just as much as

15-man attack.'

The latter, it has to be said, was not in evidence. 'We'll work on our ball delivery again,' McGeechan said. 'For the first 20 minutes it looked as if we were going to build up momentum, but we let Bristol slow things up. That was crucial. If you've got pace in the backs, then you really have to get the ball in their hands early.

'I never do things, though, without getting as much information as I can,' McGeechan said. But at least we're on first base.'

Northampton: Penalties Grayson 5. Bristol: Penalties Tainton 6.

Northampton: I Hunter; F Packman, N Beal, R MacNaughton, H Thorneycroft; P Grayson, D Elkington; M Hynes, P Roworth, C Allen, J Phillips, M Bayfield, P Walton (A Pountney, 72), T Rodber (capt), S Foale.

Bristol: P Hull; D John, M Denny, D Wring, G Sharp; M Tainton, M Chudleigh; A Sharp (P Stiff, 40), M Regan, D Hinkins, S Shaw, A Blackmore, C Barrow (Stiff, 37-40), I Patten, D Eves (capt).

Referee: J Wallis (Bridgwater).

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