Rugby Union: Naylor displays international quality

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Newcastle 37 Northampton 12

Newcastle have hardly put a foot wrong since Rob Andrew arrived on Tyneside to seal the bargain he struck with Sir John Hall to take the club to the top. For the time being they are only on top of the Allied Dunbar Premiership First Division on points difference, but in reaching this milestone Newcastle consistently wrongfooted Northampton, who found no answer to the dynamism of the rampant Newcastle pack, in which their Samoan flanker Pat Lam was outstanding.

Northampton conceded five tries and never looked as if they could construct one for themselves in a game full of movement, vigour and determined running.

Saints were never able to offer a defence as unbreachable as Newcastle's or match the finishing power of James Naylor. It is 21 months since Newcastle last lost at home in the league, and if they continue to play like this, it will be some time before they do so again.

Northampton's coach, Ian McGeechan, said: "This was a game we had to dog out. At 13-12 we looked as if we might just do it. But we needed to be more competitive at the breakdown and in the second half we were never there, nor deserved to be when we were consistently conceding 15 metres or so at the tackle. To be fair to Newcastle, they played very well, and gave us all sorts of problems."

It was the youngest of Newcastle's seven Lions, Tim Stimpson, who got the show rolling in front of a near-capacity crowd of 6,900 at Kingston Park with a second-minute penalty to take him to 100 points for the season. Eventually, he extended that to 112 with three conversions and two more penalties.

In the second quarter, as Newcastle relaxed after Gary Armstrong had darted down the left flank for a sparkling try, Saints briefly raised themselves with a dropped goal by Gregor Townsend and three Alastair Hepher penalties, but that was as far as Saints were allowed.

Newcastle's growing authority was spearheaded by Lam, and from one of his bursts, Armstrong transferred to Andrew, who put Naylor into the right corner.

Having originally chosen Naylor in his squad of 77, the watching England coach, Clive Woodward looked a mite sheepish when Naylor burst on to Armstrong's pass for his second. At 25-12, Saints were staring at a hefty defeat, and tries by Lam and Nick Popplewell buried their slender hopes of respectability.

Newcastle: Tries Naylor 2, Lam, Popplewell, Armstrong. Conversions Stimpson 3. Penalties Stimpson 2. Northampton: Penalties Hepher 3. Dropped goal Townsend.

Newcastle: T Stimpson; J Naylor, V Tuigamala, A Tait, J Bentley; R Andrew, G Armstrong; N Popplewell, R Nesdale, P Van-Zandvliet, G Archer, D Weir, P Lam, R Arnold (P Walton, 20), D Ryan (capt).

Northampton: A Hepher (H Thorneycroft, h-t); N Beal, A Northey, M Allen, B Cohen; G Townsend, M Dawson (capt); M Volland, A Clarke, M Stewart, J Phillips, M Bayfield, D Mackinnon, B Pountney, S Tatupu.

Referee: T Spreadbury (Bristol).