Rugby Union: Saints celebrate Shelford's return with rout of Scots: Northampton expose gulf between English and Scottish top divisions by running in eight tries

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Northampton . . . . .55

Stirling County. . . .7

WAYNE SHELFORD made a guest appearance for Northampton and the crowd reacted as if it was the return of the conquering hero. The former All Black No 8, who said arrivederci to Northampton last season and is now employed as player-coach of Roma, stood out as the only man at Franklin's Gardens with suntanned legs.

His Christmas presence helped swell the gate to something in the region of 5,000 and under his captaincy the Saints ran in eight tries, a feast with all the trimmings bar one. Had this been a pantomime Shelford, on holiday in England, would surely have rounded things off with a try. He did not score but typically had a hand in most things.

Presumably Stirling attach more importance to Hogmanay. Whatever, they left Scotland at 6am for a seven-hour journey south and spent last night drowning their sorrows in Northampton. 'We helped them with their expenses,' a Northampton official said, with a knowing smile.

This was the second such game between the clubs and if it proved anything it is the yawning disparity in strength between the English First Division and the Scottish. Stirling, missing three players who will be on duty for Scotland A against Ireland tomorrow, asked Northampton not to field a weak side.

Northampton mixed it up a bit, adding some young faces to six regular members of the first-team squad. They still possessed far too much pace and guile for a club that has worked its way up from the Seventh Division to the First, where they currently occupy fourth place.

Northampton soon had a taste for the flavour of this match when Shelford elected to run a penalty and John Phillips, after a couple of mis-moves, ran through a gap in the four-man Northampton wall and straight through a totally bemused defence which was anything but sterling.

No sooner had Mark McKenzie jinked over to level the scores than Stirling were split asunder again after another example of sleight of hand and Ian Hunter scored at the posts. With England preferring a goalkicking specialist at full-back in Jonathan Callard, the talented Hunter may have a frustrating wait before adding to his handful of caps.

He nearly scored the try of the match in an 80-yard move which involved a quite brilliant kick and pick-up off his toes at full pace. However, he was held up inches short of the line. As it was there were several candidates and the honour probably went to Frank Packman, who rounded off an electric break from Matthew Foster.

Foster, the former Northampton youth captain, made a thoroughly satisfactory senior debut, helping himself to a try in the second half. The warmest cheers of a cold afternoon were, however, reserved for the man who came from the Eternal City to a club that seem to be eternally grateful for his contribution past and present.

Northampton: Tries Phillips 2, Hunter 2, Packman 2, Foster, Merlin; Conversions Hunter 6; Drop goal Packman. Stirling: Try McKenzie; Conversion McKenzie.

Northampton: I Hunter; K Morgan, M Foster, F Packman, H Thorneycroft; S Tubb (L Ilott, 60), R Rees; M Vollands, A Clarke, G Pearce, J Phillips (G Webster, 67), N Edwards, D Merlin, W Shelford (capt), P Pask.

Stirling County: R Mailer (A Logan, 18); S Crawford, J Wright, M McGrandles, A Turner; M McKenzie, K Harper (D Bryce, 65); J Gibson, G Rutherford, B Robertson, S Hamilton (capt), M Norval, G Flockhart, J Brough, B Ireland.

Referee: T Sparks (Warwickshire).

(Photograph omitted)