Rugby Union: Pagel's power play gives Northampton all the right angles

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The Independent Online
David Llewellyn

London Irish 10

Northampton 51

This was one Saints' day that will not be appearing on Irish calendars, not after such an efficient demolition job by Northampton.

There was nothing saintly in the way Northampton were at the Exiles' throats for the whole match. It was unremitting, total rugby from first to last. Rapid recycling, shuddering scrums, murderous mauls and devastating drives, and on the rare occasion the Irish shook off their shackles, they were invariably stopped in their tracks by thunderous tackles. The Exiles could not hack it.

There was much for the Northampton captain, Tim Rodber, to be pleased about. Firstly, he came through 80 minutes showing no ill-effects after being out with concussion. And there was a gem of a display at outside- half by England's Paul Grayson and an outstanding contribution from Saints' import, Garry Pagel.

The South African prop was banned for six months in 1993 after raking Jean-Francois Tordo - the French hooker needed 50 stitches and surgical rebuilding of his face after the incident during France's match against Western Province - but on Saturday he confined himself to legal footwork and deft handling.

London Irish were game to the last. But pride and passion proved no match for power, pace and Pagel. "Garry gives everyone confidence, the forwards in particular," Rodber said afterwards. "He is a man mountain. He is fit now - he's lost five kilos since he came to the club."

In fact he was a revelation. "He is immensely strong and a tremendous scrummager," Saints coach, Ian McGeechan, said. "For a big man his body angles in the ruck, maul and drives are excellent." Pagel, though, was just one element of an efficient machine which outdid Irish at every turn. If the forwards did their bit, inspired by the Springbok and driven by their captain, the backs were no less ruthless.

Buoyed by his performance for England against the All Blacks last weekend, Grayson excelled himself. He launched numerous attacks; made thrusting, threatening runs, put in punishingly long kicks over Exile heads, and was deadly accurate with his goal-kicking - nine out of nine.

Grayson began the match with a dazzling break and appropriately finished things off with Saints' sixth try in injury time, the conversion of which brought up the half-century and the outside-half's contribution to 26 points.

"I was smiling last week because people were talking about the new Grayson," McGeechan said. "They obviously haven't been watching because that is how he plays week-in, week-out."

London Irish: Try McCall; Conversion Woods; Penalty Woods. Northampton: Tries Pountney, Dawson, Pagel, Townsend, Allen, Grayson; Conversions Grayson 6; Penalties Grayson 3.

London Irish: C O'Shea (capt); J Bishop, N Burrows (R Hennessy, 59), M McCall (S Burns, 68), N Woods; D Humphreys, N Hogan; J Fitzpatrick, T Redmond, G Halpin, G Fulcher (L Mooney, 70; rep O'Connell 74), M O'Kelly, K O'Connell (R Kellam, 67), K Spicer, K Dawson (C Bird, 59).

Northampton: I Hunter (B Cohen, 50); J Sleightholme, G Townsend, M Allen, J Bell; P Grayson, M Dawson; G Pagel, A Clarke, M Stewart, J Phillips, J Chandler, D Mackinnon (G Seely, 67), T Rodber (capt), A Pountney

Referee: A Rowden (Reading).

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