Rugby Union: Northampton's feast of famine

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The Independent Online
Northampton. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .16

Harlequins. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23

THE bunch of fives that Northampton have presented to Ian McGeechan would have knocked out many lesser mortals, but the former Lions and Scotland coach does not seem even dazed by the string of defeats with which his side have begun their Courage league campaign.

McGeechan, who began his job as director of rugby at Franklin's Gardens just over a week ago, believes Northampton can and will fight their way out of trouble. 'There are good players here,' he said. 'The commitment is good. The backs are not afraid to spin it wide. The forwards are driving well. The players have the confidence to play expansive rugby and that is what I am going to encourage them to do.'

Saints' chief sinners were their backs, who were full of derring-do but ultimately delivered nothing against a competent Harlequins defence. The feast of expansive rugby they intended to spread before McGeechan was too generously peppered with mistakes and poor decision-making, notably at scrum-half where Matt Dawson's options too frequently wasted the hard work of the forwards, led and inspired by their captain, Tim Rodber.

The pressure is certainly on Northampton. There was a note of desperation in Rodber's voice when he said: 'We need to win. There is no panic yet about going down, but we do want that first win.' If relegation does become an issue, it will create further problems for Rodber in the light of England's request that internationals should not play in every match towards the end of the domestic season for fear they will be worn out before the start of the World Cup.

Rodber, and probably his club colleague Martin Bayfield, may well be forced to ignore the request. 'As England players we want to be able to pick and choose and have a rest,' Rodber said. 'Unfortunately, at the moment we are not going to be able to do that. And we are prepared for that. It's more important to get the club back on the road and winning again. We are not going to have rests. It's as simple as that.'

Rodber and Bayfield also picked up niggling injuries to add to their misery. Rodber pulled a hamstring and Bayfield injured a shoulder, although both expect to play at Orrell. There is no such luck for the Harlequins stand-off, Paul Challinor, however, as concussion keeps him out until the match at Bath at the end of the month.

Northampton: Try Hunter; Conversion Grayson; Penalties Grayson 2; Drop goal Grayson. Harlequins: Tries Cassell, Thompson 2; Conversion Challinor; Penalties Challinor, Greenwood.

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

Harlequins: W Greenwood; J Keyter, W Carling, J Alexander, G Thompson; P Challinor (C Wright, 39), R Kitchin; J Leonard, B Moore (capt), N Collins, P Thresher, T Coker (B Davison, 34-38), R Jenkins, C Sheasby, J Cassell.

Referee: J Pearson (Yarm, Cleveland).

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