Rugby Union: Pagel heads Saints' revival

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The Independent Online
Northampton 34

Bedford 29

LOCAL DERBIES are often special occasions and this one did not disappoint. With 10 minutes remaining the Saints were leading by two points but a surging run down the left wing by full-back Nick Beal forced a penalty and subsequent score by Garry Pagel. Two minutes later they attacked down the same flank, exposing the tiredness of the Bedford defence and winning a scrum five metres from the Bedford line.

The drive was exemplary in its execution but the referee brought them back to try again, with similar results. A score here and the game was over, and on the third attempt the referee awarded a penalty as a desperate Blues defence went offside under the posts.

Twelve points adrift with little time remaining did not augur well for the Blues but commendably they continued their fight to the final whistle, Tony Yapp and Sam Howard combining to let James Cockle power his way into the corner.

Beset by Frank Warren's financial paralysis they may be, but Bedford are displaying the qualities of Warren's more famous clients. Their fight and hunger is undoubted and with greater firepower in the forwards they will win close games rather than be the gallant losers.

However, if Northampton had shown the commitment and adventure in the first half that they did in the first 15 minutes of the second, this local derby would have been decided by the interval. This is not to castigate a spirited Blues performance but from the start they were outgunned in the forwards and forced to rely on scraps of possession that the frequently bad Northampton handling afforded them.

To reach the turnaround 14-6 up was testament to the ingenuity of Sam Howard and Dominic O'Mahony but a three-try blast straight from the re- start left the visitors reeling.

The defence that had previously held so firm was torn to shreds by aggressive running by the Saints backs, Jon Sleightholme and Beal sprinting in to score and raise the Franklins Gardens faithful.

In between, Pat Lam had ghosted round the exposed blind side. Punch-drunk as Bedford were, they rallied for Underwood to score his second try, but losing both Scott Murray and Junior Paramore to the sin-bin gifted the Saints an influential bias up front.

It is probably unfair to Paul Grayson that his replacement at half-time by Ali Hepher coincided with a marked revival in the Saints' fortunes but still it is damning evidence against an international fly-half, although in mitigation he was hindered by Matt Dawson's preoccupation with kicking.

With Matt Allen and Nick Beal breaking through the defence seemingly every time they received the ball, Dawson's judgement was awry. The second half, however, remained in the hand, and the control, of the Saints.

Northampton: N Beal; C Moir, D Dantiacq (Northey, 64), M Allen, J Sleightholme; P Grayson (Hepher, h-t), M Dawson (capt); G Pagel, F Mendez, M Hynes (Volland, 52), J Phillips, A Newman, D Mackinnon (Seely, 64), B Pountney, P Lam.

Bedford: S Howard; R Underwood, J Ewens, A Murdoch (capt), D O'Mahony; T Yapp, C Harrison; N Hatley, J Richards, C Boyd, D Zaltzman, S Murray, J Cockle, J Forster, J Paramore.

Referee: S Savage (Warwick)