Rugby Union: Saints' good day

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The Independent Online
Northampton. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .9 Gloucester . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .6 THERE are no bargains to be had in this particular basement, Northampton had well and truly spent out by the finish at Franklin's Gardens yesterday. But they were smiling again, six successive defeats put behind them and at last a beer in celebration rather than in sorrow. Three penalties to two over Gloucester, though, does not mean they are about to set the league alight.

Barrie Corless had pointed out the situation quite well. Returning to the club he had helped put back on the map before his switch to Gloucester and the Saints' present slump, the director of rugby said: 'Northampton may be bottom without a win but they are no push-over.' In other words, there are no easy matches in the First Division.

Northampton certainly know the feeling and there was a touch of edginess creeping in here as defeat followed defeat. Good old Ian McGeechan, Corless's successor, who has only just arrived, quickly stepped in with: 'Criticism has been levelled at the team, but it is way out of context. My job is to keep everything in perspective.'

Meanwhile, Northampton would have happily settled for the two wins, over West Hartlepool and Bristol, that Gloucester carried with them to this ground.

Word is that the spirit of adventure is abroad at Kingsholm and that was evident when they ran the ball from behind their own line in the opening minutes. It was good to see, but it came to nothing.

As for the Saints, they settled for some aerial ping-pong in which even their captain, Tim Rodber, engaged himself. From Northampton's point of view, it seemed no one was going to chance making a mistake - working on the theory that they had made quite enough already for one season.

Gloucester then appeared to catch the disease after that early flurry and we settled down to watch another of those hard, forward-orientated encounters that litter the league. Which also meant, of course, a whole string of penalties. That accounted for the first half, at any rate, Paul Grayson landing three to Mark Mapletoft's two.

It just showed you how desperate Saints' supporters have become for a success, because they cheered everyone of Grayson's successful kicks outrageously.

If Grayson, who has scored virtually all the club's points this season, had a side-step half as good as his boot perhaps there would be something to really cheer about here.

As it was, at the time Grayson did think about trying a few options the ball was wet from a downpour and he made absolutely no headway. Midway through the second half a rainbow appeared over the ground. Was this a sign, people asked? Well, you certainly could not fault the Saints' commitment.

This was helped considerably when a spot of fancy footwork on the hooker Allen Clarke saw the Saints thunder down-field and lock up Gloucester. For good, as it transpired.

Northampton: S Juds; K Morgan, N Beal, M Allen, H Thorneycroft; P Grayson, M Dawson; M Hynes, A Clarke, M Lewis, J Phillips, M Bayfield, T Rodber (capt), G Seeley, T Pountney.

Gloucester: M Mapletoft; P Holford, S Morris, B Maslen, L Osborne; M Kimber, B Fenley; P Jones, D Kearsey, A Deacon (capt), D Sims, R West, M Teague, C Raymond, I Smith.

Referee: C Rees (Twickenham)

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