Rugby Union: Saints' hellish night as Lynagh signs off

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The Independent Online
Saracens 43 Northampton 20

MICHAEL LYNAGH may have passed into rugby history at Vicarage Road last night and Philippe Sella will be joining him there soon enough, but Saracens ensured the Allied Dunbar Premiership would go all the way to the bitter end by lighting the fires of hell under the Saints of Northampton. The Londoners had spent the previous five days on a stratospheric Cup final high but they certainly hit the ground running on touchdown.

Ten thousand midweek supporters turned out to pay homage to the veteran midfielders and to a man, woman and child, they ached for a try from one or both of them. Lynagh very nearly obliged in the fifth minute of first- half injury time, but his short scuffle to the line was fatally undermined by Danny Grewcock's indiscipline at a previous ruck. It barely mattered. Glory-hunting has never meant much to either man and therein lay their greatness.

Sella settled to his task early, rattling a few saintly teeth with his trademark tackling and generally taking up squatter's rights in enemy territory. Lynagh was more fidgety, his cucumber-cool rugby brain temporarily addled by the scale of the ovation and the finality of the occasion. He missed two early tackles, fluffed his first tactical kick and conceded a turnover to a bristling Northampton back row, but he pulled himself together in good time to play an influential role in his side's opening try on 13 minutes.

Richard Wallace, the Irish international wing, stripped his opposite number, Ben Cohen, of the ball at a maul 30 metres out. Saracens moved it right to establish a more threatening field position, then slipped through the gears going left. Lynagh hit George Chuter with a perfectly executed cut-out pass as the hooker combined with Steve Ravenscroft to give Wallace a dawdle to the corner.

Further first-half tries from Francois Pienaar, who enjoyed another absolute stormer, and Marcus Olsen, who replaced Kyran Bracken shortly before the break, put the Londoners in clear blue water and with their front row every bit as dominant as they had been against the same opposition in the Tetley's Bitter Cup semi-final in March, the die was cast unusually early.

Their cast-iron 22-3 interval advantage was always likely to be strengthened further and Olsen duly completed a workaday push-over score midway through the third quarter. Any scrum-half will tell you that heaven is a front row with two mean men at prop and with Roberto Grau, the raging bull of the Argentinian pampas, in pugnacious mood alongside the resilient Paul Wallace, Olsen must have considered himself blessed.

The last 20 minutes saw the sides go try for try, Nick Beal and Shem Tatupu cancelling out close-range efforts from Ravenscroft and Tony Diprose. And at the death, an outside-half did work his way on to the scoresheet. Sadly for the crowd, the scorer was Paul Grayson. Lynagh simply smiled his inscrutable smile.

Sarcens: Tries Olsen 2, R Wallace, Pienaar, Ravenscroft, Diprose; Conversions Lynagh 5; Penalty Lynagh. Northampton: Tries Beal, Tatupu, Grayson; Conversion Grayson; Penalty Grayson.

Saracens: G Johnson; R Constable, P Sella, S Ravenscroft, R Wallace (M Singer, 68); M Lynagh, K Bracken (M Olsen, 29); R Grau, G Chuter, P Wallace, P Johns, D Grewcock, B Sturnham (A Bennett, 68), A Diprose (capt), F Pienaar.

Northampton: N Beal; B Cohen, J Bell (H Thorneycroft, 71), M Allen (A Northey, 45), C Moir; P Grayson (capt), D Malone; M Volland, C Johnson, M Hynes (C Allen, 68), J Phillips, J Chandler, S Foale, S Tatupu, J Cassell (D Merlin, 49).

Referee: J Pearson (Durham).