Rugby Union: Rodber lords it over Quins

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The Independent Online
Northampton. .15

Harlequins . .14

THE return to league rugby marked the return of Harlequins' habitual league lethargy. After a month's break in the campaign, the London club reconfirmed its reputation as a poor stayer on the long haul.

Only as Northampton faded and Quins' outside-half Paul Challinor picked away at the deficit with his dead-eye kicking accuracy did a fleeting glimpse of victory appear - but all too late.

Perhaps Harlequins could not light the spark sooner because neither side had much to gain from the match. They lay side by side in the middle of the table with no prospect either of topping it or of relegation. With a fair sprinkling of error, this outing for two also-rans did not generate the excitement the scoreline suggests.

It was the first league match in which the referee and one of the linesmen had been wired for sound, and able to talk to each other through microphones on their jerseys. It is tempting to suggest they might have got more entertainment by tuning their earphones to local radio.

But at least Northampton came out with determination and spirit. Tim Rodber confirmed his stature as a back-row forward. He foraged hard, distributed well and stood firm in the middle of the fray.

He generated the try that set up victory, moving forward in the loose before shrewdly realising the backs had space. Winger Kevin Morgan eventually crossed. Morgan's second try was classier: he jinked and dummied through a tiny gap in the Harlequins' defence to put the game beyond doubt.

Or beyond doubt were it not for the boot of Challinor and some steel introduced into the Quins pack. With Troy Coker to the fore, the forwards rolled up their sleeves and fought for territory. The outside-half then kicked the penalties that might have brought victory. But a pot-shot at a drop-goal went awry virtually on the whistle.

It was the old story of the Rolls-Royce of English rugby being unable to move out of first gear. On the long league road, rougher machines clearly perform better.

Northampton: Tries Morgan 2; Conversion Grayson; Penalty Grayson. Harlequins: Try O'Leary; Penalties Challinor 3.

Northampton: N Beal; K Morgan, J Fletcher (P Miles, 17), R McNaughton, H Thorneycroft; P Grayson, B Taylor; C Allen, A Clarke, G Pearce, N Edwards, J Phillips, P Walton, T Rodber (capt), M Steffert.

Harlequins: R Glenister; D O'Leary, W Carling, G Thompson, J Alexander; P Challinor, C Luxton; J Leonard, N Killick, A Mullins (capt), M Russell, S Dear, T Coker, C Sheasby, J Cassell.

Referee: J Pearson (Durham).

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