Rugby Union: Saints and winners

Northampton 29 Bristol 21
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The Independent Online
The Saints were alive yesterday. They ran the ball against Bristol with an enthusiasm which suggested that kicking was an offence punishable by a fine of a week's wages.

How they missed their England lock Martin Bayfield, out for the foreseeable future with an injury to his pelvic bone, as they are undeniably lightweight in the front five. But their willingness to spread the ball wide - even from their own 22 - is none the less admirable. It was rewarded with four splendid tries yesterday. The penetrative running, in particular, of their full-back, Nick Beal, and the left wing, Harvey Thorneycroft, caused Bristol constant problems.

After Paul Grayson and Paul Burke had exchanged penalties, Northampton ran a penalty from deep inside their half in the 14th minute. From a subsequent maul, Matt Dawson fed Grayson who went blind and charged over the line from 15 yards out.

Seven minutes later, Northam-pton tapped another penalty - this time under Bristol's posts - and the ball was spun out to the centre Jonathan Bell who powered over in the corner. Just before half time, further Northampton pressure led to a try for Beal from another run penalty. Deep into the second half, Northampton's captain, Tim Rodber, drove over from yet another Dawson tap.

By contrast, Bristol's approach was rather more basic. They kept it tight, employing their flankers, Martin Corry and David Corkery, to batter holes in the Northampton cover. Both scored tries either side of half-time which kept Bristol in touch, but it was not enough. The darker side of Bristol's physicality was manifest in the second half when Eben Rollitt was sent off after an incident which left Jon Phillips laid out on the turf. Bristol later claimed Rollitt was a victim of mistaken identity.

Northampton may not lay waste to opponents as they did last season, but it is easy to share the fervour of the supporters who cheered their team off to "When the Saints Go Marching In".

Northampton: N Beal; C Moir, J Bell, M Allen, H Thorneycroft; P Grayson, M Dawson; M Volland, A Clarke, M Lewis, J Phillips, S Foale, D McKinnon, T Rodber (capt), B Pountney.

Bristol: P Hull (capt); K Maggs, F Waters, M Denney, B Breeze; P Burke, R Jones; A Sharp, M Regan, K Fulman, P Adams, S Shaw ( I Dixon, 48), M Corry, E Rollitt, D Corkery.

Referee: J Wallis (Bridgewater).