Rugby Union: Soft touch for Bayfield

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The Independent Online
Northampton . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .65

Nottingham . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .5

DAVID POWELL, the former England prop and now a Northampton committee man, came straight to the point. 'I suppose you've come to see the long fellow,' he said. 'Well, at least he's guaranteed a soft landing.' No fears on that score as Martin Bayfield made his return to rugby following a serious neck injury in torrential rain at Franklin's Gardens yesterday.

Indeed, England's line-out power stood more chance of drowning than anything else as he emerged unscathed from the rout of Nottingham. One two-handed line-out take in the third minute, greeted with a great cheer from the large holiday crowd, said it all. Bayfield was back and he was smiling afterwards.

'I was just content to get through the game,' were his first rather breathless words. 'There were times when I was puffing a bit.' Which was hardly surprising considering that his last game had come against Bath on 18 September. 'It'll be a lot harder next Saturday away to Leicester.'

Soft landing? Certainly, considering poor Nottingham won only four line-outs all afternoon. This was not all down to Bayfield but as Glenn Ross, Northampton's New Zealand coach, had pointed out, the thing about the 6 ft 10 in Bayfield is that it often effectively takes two of the opposition to cope with him when the ball is thrown in and Nottingham had no answer.

So the news sounds good for England, who open in the Five Nations' Championship against Scotland in Edinburgh on 5 February. 'There's a lot of hard work to do but I'm confident I'll be fit to play at Murrayfield if selected,' Bayfield said. In which case, it will be a slightly bigger Bayfield on view.

The Saints advertise their replica jerseys here in small, medium, large and Bayfield, and since donning a head harness with a 10kg weight

attached to it as part of his training routine the lock's collar size has grown from 17in to 18in. 'I'm also heavier at 19st since the lay-off,' Bayfield said, 'and I need to lose another half stone.'

Bayfield was first seen injuring his neck when he came flying out of a line-out against Otago back in June during the Lions' tour of New Zealand. There was none of that nonsense, yesterday, and nor would you expect it against opposition currently propping up the Second Division.

Since Alan Davies left them to coach Wales, Nottingham have plummeted and their only bright moment yesterday came when Gary Rees, the former England flanker, came on as a replacement to score from their fourth and last line-out take. The rest was one-way traffic. Tim Rodber leading from the front with four tries - and all that was missing was a touch-down from Bayfield, only denied in the second half by Phil Miles's wretched pass.

Northampton: Tries Rodber 4, Fielden, Dawson, Steele 2, Thorneycroft 2, Foale. Conversions: Steele 5. Nottingham: Try Rees.

Northampton: I Hunter; K Morgan, J Fletcher, M Fielden, H Thorneycroft; J Steele, M Dawson (P Miles 56); G Baldwin, A Clarke, M Vollands, G Webster, M Bayfield, S Foale, T Rodber (capt), C Millhouse.

Nottingham: M Gallagher; R Cox, S Mitchell, A Furley, R Byrom; B Musto (capt), A Royer; K Fenton (A Jackson 40), S Drury (G Rees 66), S O'Keefe, M Skypeck, B Langley, K McGovern, N Malik, A Morris.

Referee: K Roberts (Birmingham).