RUGBY UNION: Saints waiting patiently for Elvis

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The Independent Online
Northampton 9 Bath 6

Even before their epic victory over the reigning Courage League champions Bath, Northampton were voicing their feelings over an apparent lack of interest on the part of the England management to watch their players. One Saints' player quipped: "There is more chance of seeing Elvis Presley at Franklin's Gardens than Jack Rowell."

Ian McGeechan, the British Lions coach, but more pertinently Northampton's director of rugby, put things a little more politely. "Perhaps I should send Jack Rowell the directions to the ground. We've been playing some excellent rugby recently, but no one would know that because we haven't been watched."

Les Cusworth, a member of the England coaching team, was apparently due at the match. He did not turn up for whatever reason, and missed a stunning match of the old fashioned variety, plenty of hard graft and no tries - although Northampton at least had two touchdowns disallowed. Bath, who lost hooker Graham Dawe with a dislocated elbow after six minutes, never looked remotely like scoring.

England's new captain Phil de Glanville, who also leads Bath, was scathing about his side's efforts. "There have been a lot of distractions this week, but we should have been good enough to rise above them," he said. "We've got to batten down the hatches and focus on playing Cardiff in the Heineken Cup quarter-final next week, which is a huge game."

But so was this one. This was their third League defeat and the season is not yet half-way through. On the three previous occasions that Bath have lost three or more League games in a season, they have missed out on the title. That may not be the case this year, but they cannot afford slip-ups. Particularly not against what was a weakened side without two Ireland internationals and the inspirational Scotland captain, Gregor Townsend.

What was even more remarkable was that Northampton managed the win despite losing their captain, Tim Rodber, five minutes before the interval. He has just earned an England recall for the Italian match, but limped off with a gash on the inside of his left knee clearly caused by someone's studs. There was a flap of skin hanging down and one of the two duty doctors said: "It was a deep cut. It looked like a butcher's knife had skinned him."

Rodber, who had until them been part of a storming forward display that continued unabated after his departure, admitted he thought it had put paid to his international return: "When I came off I could see my medial ligaments so I was a bit worried about possible damage to them."

Fortunately, after some embroidery, Rodber was able to pronounce that he would be OK for England and was even confident that he would make Northampton's European Conference quarter-final against Narbonne on Saturday.

Two of the players at the core of a magnificent team achievement were the axed England half-backs Matt Dawson and Paul Grayson. The performance they turned in was out of the top drawer, but England have bundled them to the back of the closet. The pair of them always seemed to take the right options and, like the rest of the Saints side, were exemplary in defence. Centre Matt Allen was superb, repeatedly snuffing out the threat of Jeremy Guscott - also discarded by Rowell - and De Glanville, while Jon Sleightholme and Adedayo Adebayo, England's two wings, found Harvey Thorneycroft, Nick Beal and Ian Hunter an impenetrable wall.

Northampton: Penalties Grayson 2; Drop goal Grayson. Bath: Penalties Callard 2.

Northampton: N Beal; I Hunter, R McNaughton, M Allen, H Thorneycroft; P Grayson, M Dawson; M Volland, T Beddow, M Hynes, J Phillips, J Chandler, S Tatupu, B Pountey, T Rodber (capt; J Cassell, 30).

Bath: J Callard; J Sleightholme, P de Glanville (capt), J Guscott, A Adebayo; M Catt, C Harrison; K Yates, G Dawe (N McCarthy, 6), J Mallett, M Haag, B Cusack, A Robinson, R Webster (N Thomas, 48), S Ojomoh.

Referee: E Morrison (Bristol).