Rugby Union: McGeechan will need all his powers to restore Saints' shattered confidence

Northampton 15 Connacht 20
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The Independent Online
Ian McGeechan is not normally associated with the word crisis. Modesty, perception, success, meticulous and confidence yes. But not crisis. At the end of a week when Northampton suffered two defeats, one more significant than the other, it is true that McGeechan has, at very least, a crisis of confidence on his hands. It will be instructive to see how the Saints' director of rugby deals with it.

Although the league setback at Newcastle in midweek was the greater loss as McGeechan acknowledged, failure to qualify for the European Conference quarter-finals, they could have done without the two defeats by Connacht.

"Every coach in England will tell you that the league is more relevant," said McGeechan. "But the Conference has been a great experience for us.

"Connacht did the basics better. Although our line-out was much improved after Newcastle, our control wasn't good enough. Not only that, when Connacht were out on their feet in the last 10 minutes, we couldn't put them away. It was very disappointing."

At that stage Connacht were there for the taking, even with a 10-point cushion. But Gregor Townsend had put his decision-making apparatus in the pending tray and, when he needed it most, the Lions' outside-half could not find it.

For all his infuriating inconsistency Townsend had done more than most to keep Saints in the game. Though when he had a chance to win it for them, it all went horribly wrong. Townsend had kicked a penalty and converted his own try to give Northampton a 10-8 interval lead. Connacht had responded with a close-range try from their prop, John Maher and a penalty from Eric Elwood.

With the rain pounding down on Franklin's Gardens, Elwood deceived the Saints' cover with an outrageous dummy to send Junior Charlie in for a try. Nigel Carolan got the third from Willie Ruane's pass. Elwood converted the first, and Connacht were cruising.

Having failed with two straight penalties, Townsend then missed an opportunity to haul Northampton to within three points. Ignoring a four-man overlap was profligate though Townsend got to the line only to drop the ball in the act of scoring.

By the time Jonathan Bell had skidded in for a doubtful try, Northampton's confidence was shot.

Northampton: Tries Townsend, Bell; Conversion Townsend; Penalty Townsend.

Connacht: Tries Maher, Charlie, Carolan; Conversion Elwood; Penalty Elwood.

Northampton: N Beal; C Moir (H Thorneycroft, 75), M Allen, A Blyth (J Bell, 55), B Cohen; G Townsend, M Dawson (capt); M Volland, C Johnson, M Stewart, J Phillips, M Bayfield, S Barnes, D Merlin, B Pountney.

Connacht: W Ruane; N Barry, P Duignan, M Murphy, N Carolan; E Elwood, C McGuinness; J Maher, B Mulcahy, M Finlay (M Cahill, 70), G Heaslip (capt), M McConnell (B Jackman, 74), J Charlie, S McEntee (M Reilly, h-t), B Gavin.

Referee: D Bevan (Wales).

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