Rugby Union: Saints exposed in duck shoot

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The Independent Online
Harlequins. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .15

Northampton. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .7

KENT BRAY, the Harlequins hotshot, obviously considered Northampton fair game but the Saints were little more than sitting ducks at The Stoop. It is one thing to give away a penalty in front of your posts, but five on the trot is rather overdoing it.

Of course, Bray was quite happy to keep banging away from short- to-medium range and never missed the target once in the second half. It was a job well done and the Saints had nothing to complain about because they were the sinners. They killed the ball, failed to release it when they should have done, and they gave Quins the charge at a scrum. All inside 10 minutes, too, so that Matt Dawson's converted try was wiped out.

Worse still, Tim Rodber then joined a maul from the wrong side and finally the Saints collapsed another. Bang, bang you're dead - Bray kept squeezing the trigger. 'We bounced back pretty well,' Jamie Salmon, the Quins general manager, said. At the time, it sounded as if he was fishing for compliments. This may have been Boot Hill, but surely the odd try would not have gone amiss.

'Yes, we deserved a bit more,' Salmon said. Having poached line- out ball at a ratio of 14-6 in the first half alone on Saturday, much of it down to Alex Snow, he was not kidding. 'But it will come,' Salmon continued. 'Bristol had shown us no respect after beating us here and we're looking for pride in the shirt. It'll come. We are not a championship side yet.'

Certainly not this season, but a third victory put them on a par with Saints and into third place in the First Division behind Bath and Leicester. As for the lack of try scoring, it had to be remembered Northampton were ferocious in the tackle and none more so than the No 8 Rodber. In his own way, he scored as many hits as Bray.

Justyn Cassell, just before the break, went down like a stunned buffalo when Rodber took him at full tilt. Cassell was carted off in considerable pain. 'He popped a shoulder,' Salmon reported. 'And he may need an operation.' Running into Rodber is no fun at all and when England go hunting for the All Blacks at Twickenham next month, it would be no surprise if he is in the party.

'I used to watch Mick Skinner and thought well if he can stop people in their tracks, then so can I,' Rodber said. 'I enjoy the tackling and England will need to make some big tackles against New Zealand. I'm just going to play as well as I can so they have to pick me in one position or the other.'

The Saints vice-captain was again outstanding but the lack of line-out ball was worrying and will continue to be a problem until Martin Bayfield is cured of a neck injury.

Harlequins: Penalties Bray 5. Northampton: Try Dawson; Conversion Grayson.

Harlequins: K Bray; D O'Leary, W Carling, G Thompson, J Alexander; P Challinor, R Glenister; J Leonard, B Moore, A Mullins (capt), A Snow, D Dix, M Pepper, C Sheasby, J Cassell (P Thresher, 38).

Northampton: I Hunter; H Thorneycroft, M Fielden, R MacNaughton, N Beal; P Grayson, M Dawson; G Baldwin, J Olver (capt), G Pearce, G Webster, J Phillips, P Walton, T Rodber, C Millhouse.

Referee: D McHugh (Ireland).