Rugby Union: Moir proves the merrier

Northampton 38 Cardiff 10
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THESE Anglo-Welsh encounters may be billed as friendlies but there was little goodwill on view for the 7,249 hardy souls who braved the elements at a wet and windy Franklins' Gardens yesterday.

Smarting from their 30-19 defeat in Cardiff back in September the Saints announced a near full-strength side but the Welsh were ravaged by flu and were still making forced changes to their side an hour before the kick-off.

The British League issue is still unresolved, but Ian McGeechan, Northampton's director of rugby, spoke in its favour afterwards. "This would give clubs the structured season that we need and as an international coach I would love the Five Nations' in March and April and then to go on tour for a month with the team."

Back on the immediate domestic front, the Saints made use of the wind at their backs and the excellent boot of Paul Grayson, to drive the Welsh backwards. Once camped in the 22 it was only a matter of patience to wear down the defence.

Matt Dawson slid in for the first of his two scores in the 17th minute and Budge Pountney added another three minutes later after an electrifying sprint by Jon Sleightholme. A third score by Grant Seely in the 32nd minute preceded Cardiff's best spell of the game as they drove deep into the heart of the Saints defence and pinned them back to their own goal line.

Rob Howley, back playing club rugby after two months, ghosted through a seemingly non-existent gap and released his backs. With a second-choice front five, though, Cardiff were unable to apply the pressure required to breach an organised defence, leaving them trailing by 18 points at the interval.

A score each within two minutes of the restart and two at the end by the impressive Craig Moir completed the scoring but the second half was marred by the ball resembling a bar of soap.

Not that Moir will mind. With the Welsh coach, Graham Henry, reputedly interested in him, he could find himself being cheered by the same supporters to whom he caused so much anguish yesterday.

Northampton: N Beal; C Moir, A Blyth, M Allen, J Sleightholme; P Grayson, M Dawson (D Malone, 64 min); G Pagel (M Hynes, 69 min), F Mendez (G Johnson, 69 min), M Stewart, R Metcalfe (J Malone, 64 min), J Phillips, G Seely, B Pountney, P Lam (capt, S Foale, 77 min).

Cardiff: M Rayer (L Jarvis, 55 min); L Botham, L Davies, M Hall, C Morgan (M Wintle, 40 min); P Burke, R Howley (capt); S John, P Young, L Mustoe, S Moore, K Stewart (J Jones, 40 min), O Williams (P Williams, 65 min), D Baugh, G Kacala.

Referee: F Howard (Bristol).