Rugby Union: RFU sends Salmon pink

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Northampton. .21

Harlequins. . 16

RUGBY'S law changes are a minefield judging by the explosions going off at Northampton. There was even a biggish bang before the kick-off when the unwary stepped right in and asked, in all innocence, why only two replacements? 'Good question,' Jamie Salmon, the Harlequins manager- coach said. 'I'd like to find out the answer to that myself.'

The Rugby Football Union had better brace itself, then, for a Salmon grilling this week. Among the new lines from the International Board was one about replacements, increasing to four the number of players allowed to sit on the bench. This, though, is up to the discretion of each individual union and the RFU, after consultations, has sat on that and stuck with two.

That decision does not meet with Salmon's approval, far from it. 'You could say I'm not at all happy with the situation,' he said. 'And I'll be raising the subject with the RFU during the week.' Salmon's satisfaction means four on the bench. While he can provide cover specialists, such as a hooker and scrum-half, he could not have someone on stand-by to replace, say, Jason Leonard.

The England prop is recovering from a spinal operation and when he plays, Salmon would like a loose head on the bench in case of problems. 'That's a specialist position and we're talking about the safety of a player here,' he said on Saturday. Salmon seems to be bashing his head against a brick wall.

'It's been discussed with the Senior Clubs' Association and so on,' Dudley Wood, the RFU secretary, said yesterday. 'And we've decided to stick at two, at least for the time being, the reason being that we don't want four sitting on the bench every week not playing. It's not very satisfactory.' The Salmon season, meanwhile, began on a low note at Franklin's Gardens, where another issue concerned the new maul law.

Now the side taking the ball into a maul loses the put-in at an ensuing scrum should the referee decide that the ball has become unplayable. 'I don't like it,' Bob Templeton, Australia's assistant coach who is helping out at Quins, said, joining a popular chorus of complaints. 'I think it's against the principles of going forward, although I must say Australia and New Zealand adapted to it pretty quickly. Having said that, it's an experimental law that will be under review.'

If the Wallabies and All Blacks have adapted, you could not say that the players in Saturday's friendly had got the drift. Staying on the feet at ruck and maul is the name of the game and this one fell down rather badly. Still, it is only the beginning and while there was satisfaction for Saints, an all- round improvement is needed from Quins.

To be fair, they were about a dozen below full strength. In contrast, Northampton have got away to a good start, following last Tuesday's 76-0 thrashing of Rugby with a two tries to one win here. Lending weight to the cause in every sense was Wayne Shelford, who made sure he arrived back in time in this country to qualify for a full campaign.

The great former All Black may be making the scales blink at the moment, but when he hit one static maul it soon began to move forward in Saints' favour. He also had a considerable hand in both tries, Northampton suggesting that they are again going to be a force in league and cup.

Northampton: Tries MacNaughton, Pask; Conversion Steele; Penalties Steele 3. Harlequins: Try Sheasby; Conversion S Thresher; Penalties S Thresher 3.

Northampton: J Griffiths; F Packman, N Beal, R MacNaughton, H Thorneycroft; J Steele (captain), B Taylor; C Allen, P Roworth, G Pearce, J Etheridge, D Jones, P Walton, W Shelford, P Pask.

Harlequins: S Thresher; M Wedderburn, G Thompson (R Goodwin, 55), M Evans, E Davis; P Challinor, B Short; M Hobley, N Killick, M Pratley, P Thresher, S Dear, M Russell, C Sheasby, A Fox (captain).

Referee: L Bryant (Bristol).