Rugby Union: Quins show more grit

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The Independent Online
Northampton 16

Harlequins 23

IAN McGEECHAN has a busy winter ahead of him. Barely a week in his new job as Northampton's Director of Rugby, his charges showed they will take a lot of directing away from the drop to the Second Division.

It would be a tragedy for such an attractive club to fall from the top flight. But five defeats out of five league games looks suspiciously like a habit of failure. The Scotland and Lions coach said of his new task: 'As victories come and confidence grows, the picture will look a lot different.'

Perhaps. But yesterday, the assertion looked more like a hope than an expectation. There was a similar denial of panic from the Northampton captain, Tim Rodber. 'The alarm bells aren't ringing yet,' he said with the air of someone being deafened by very loud alarm bells.

'But this is a proud club and we've got to get the show back on the road, er, not that the show is off the road.'

Rodber's defence was that the skill is there but the experience is not - and that will come with time. McGeechan reckons it could take until Christmas.

Ironically, the Saints played like a confident, skilful side for much of the afternoon. But the bald statistics of three Harlequins tries to their single - albeit scintillating - crossing of the line told a truer story.

The outside-half Paul Grayson was typical of Northampton, fashioning the best try of the game by gathering when the Quins full-back failed to catch a high ball. He gathered, distributed shrewdly, retook the ball and then switched play into wide space to let the full-back Ian Hunter cross. But then he squandered a series of place kicks that should have sealed the game. The two clinching tries both came as Northampton eased up in loose play, the Quins winger Gavin Thompson capitalising both times.

Quins were efficient and more purposeful without ever seeming to sparkle. They have bucked up since the start of the season but still have some way to go to reach the heights they think are their natural level.

Quins continued their customary slow acceleration into the season. Brian Moore inspires as though born to be the captain. He has put a bit of grit and determination into the side. But while they now present a tight act, it is not one to ignite enthusiasm. Will Carling, back after two matches out nursing a hamstring injury, fails to look like a world-class centre.

In truth, the contest had the feel of a race between also-rans.

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 Pountney, T Rodber (capt).

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

Referee: J J M Pearson (RFU).