Rugby Union: Saints stoop to conquer Scottish faithful few

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London Scottish 22 Northampton 33

FOR LONDON Scottish, a lack of punters must be quickly becoming as worrying as a lack of points. In the league table, only West Hartlepool lie beneath them; on any ladder of attendances the Scots are already exiled to the bottom, below even Bedford, who threaten each week to step under a bus if the crowds refuse to roll up.

Fewer than 2,000 chose to spend a mild Saturday evening at The Stoop, where a brave Scottish fightback could not prevent Northampton recording only their second away league win of 1998.

Out on the field, Scottish have tackled their return to the top-flight with vigour and commitment, yet have still to discover the poise and authority needed to earn them a second showing next year. The coach, John Steele, praised his side's spirit but admitted: "What let us down most were simple errors. We got to within four points and then dropped the kick-off. We need mental hardness in those areas."

That Scottish were twice within a converted try of victory owed as much to the inconsistency that has become Northampton's stock-in-trade as to the conviction of the Exiles' revival.

Saints appeared to be cantering towards victory by half-time, having slapped down three Iain McAusland penalties with immediate, withering ripostes. His first two were answered by tries from Matt Allen and Don Mackinnon and his third should have done had Pat Lam not dropped the ball with a clear run to the line.

"The game was half won at half-time," said Saints' coach, Ian McGeechan, "but we then gave them the ball for a good 15 minutes."

Northampton regained meaningful possession after a try by Eddie Jones and more points from McAusland's boot had given Scottish hope. But a Lam pick-up and scoring surge 35 yards, repeated when recycling the ball for Ali Hepher to go over on the opposite flank settled the Scottish hash.

London Scottish: Try Jones; Conversion McAusland; Penalties McAusland 5. Northampton: Tries Allen, Mackinnon, Lam, Hepher; Conversions Grayson 2; Penalties Grayson 3.

London Scottish: I McAusland; K Milligan, R Davies, J Bonney (R Eriksson, 52), C Sharman; S Binns, G Easterby; P Johnstone, J McLellan (P Robertson, 77), P Burnell (M MacDonald, 74), E Jones, M Watson (M McAtamney, 60), S Fenn (C Tarbuck, 40), G Manson-Bishop, S Holmes.

Northampton: N Beal (A Hepher, 14); C Moir, D Dantiacq, M Allen, J Sleightholme; P Grayson, M Dawson; G Pagel, F Mendez, M Hynes (M Volland, 66), R Metcalfe (S Hepher, 40), J Phillips, D Mackinnon (G Seely, 66), P Lam, B Pountney.

Referee: C Reeks (Somerset).