Rugby Union: Northampton go to waste

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The Independent Online
Gloucester. . . . .11

Northampton. . . . .6

A PILKINGTON CUP tie which, more than anything else, accurately reflected the plight of both sides in the League. It was tight, taut and, for the most part, untidy, a game fractured by innumerable penalties and driven by the desire not to lose. In the circumstances, therefore, it was a little surprising that there should have been a winner, although there was no doubt that victory should have been Gloucester's.

They made fewer errors, were less profligate with the possession they won, and they scored the only try of the match. Where Northampton were haunted by doubt and uncertainty, their forwards loose and their midfield packed with leaden-footed forwards, Gloucester played with shape, pattern and purpose. But what is more, under the enlightened tutelage of Barrie Corless there is more to Gloucester's game nowadays than a ball in the air and a herd of thundering forwards underneath.

Not that there were many opportunities for the backs yesterday, and it was typical of their misguided strategy that when Northampton did give more width to their game and tested their opponents' defence almost to breaking point, it was too late to save the game and Northampton's season. It is a complete mystery to those who have watched the re-emergence of this great club from the ashes of the past that they should find themselves in this precarious position, their sole aim now to avoid relegation.

Not only were they wasteful in the amount of possession they lost but they were unable to take advantage of Gloucester's indiscipline, missing with five penalty kicks, two by their captain, John Steele, and three by Paul Grayson. But not even this could be offered as an excuse, since Gloucester themselves missed with four penalties.

Tim Smith, the Gloucester kicker, missed three in the space of five minutes in the second half but when a fourth chance came immediately after Don Caskie had been laid out and carried off suffering from concussion, he took it to stretch the lead to eight points.

Gloucester, with their superior ball retention and the better driving position of their forwards, won the game in the first half. Martin Bayfield, continuing his rehabilitation after injury, was the target for Northampton in the line-out, but so untidy was much of the possession that it worked to Gloucester's advantage, and it was from a line-out that they scored their try, having recovered from Steele's mighty dropped goal after seven minutes.

From the line-out Gloucester won the ruck and Caskie's beautifully weighted chip enabled Paul Holford to grub-kick past Neil Edwards for the try. It marked a hat-trick of Gloucester successes against Northampton - the Cup, the League, and, most significantly, the recruitment of Corless from Franklins Gardens.

Gloucester: Try Holford; Penalties Smith 2. Northampton: Drop Goal Steele; Penalty Grayson.

Gloucester: T Smith; P Holford, S Morris, D Caskie (I Morgan, 65), M Nicholson; D Cummins, B Fenley; T Window, J Hawker, A Deacon, S Devereux, R West, P Glanville, I Smith (capt), D Simms.

Northampton: I Hunter (P Grayson, 11); K Morgan, M Fielden, J Fletcher, N Beal; J Steele (capt), M Dawson; G Baldwin, A Clarke, G Pearce, N Edwards, M Bayfield, P Walton, C Millhouse, M Steffert.

Referee: K Ricketts (London Society).