Rugby Union: Touchline altercation overshadows Saints' on-field sins

Northampton 20 Saracens 21
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The Independent Online
STEVE DIAMOND would be the first to admit that he is not of the 24-carat variety, but the Saracens head coach does not like to be called a rough diamond, not to his face anyway. But during a match which was never less than hostile and, well before the end, was positively sulphurous, Diamond was accused of roughing up the Northampton doctor, Jon Raphael.

The incident occurred as the Saracens scrum-half, Kyran Bracken, was about to leave the field after treatment for what was thought to be a cut. Moses Raulini, his blood replacement, had warmed up and was ready for action. When Bracken reached the touchline, Raphael, like Diamond an uncompromising former hooker, took a quick look at Bracken to determine the nature of his injury. When no blood was discovered, Diamond pushed Raphael and an unseemly altercation was in full flood. Bracken stayed on.

With tunnel confrontations in vogue, it was then alleged that the Saints team manager, Lennie Newman, was spat upon by a member of the Saracens coaching team. Afterwards, Diamond was in unchallengeable cutting mode. "Their doctor was in our technical area, where he's not supposed to be," said Diamond, "so I moved him out of the way. As to the spitting allegation, it's nonsense and I reject it absolutely."

Budge Pountney, Northampton's acting head coach, who is to have his position reviewed by the board this week, was as forthright as Diamond. "We don't want this sort of thing in rugby," said Pountney. "And we will take a look at all the evidence before we decide what action to take."

Of greater concern to Northampton will be their flirtation with relegation, which could end in tears well before their last match of the campaign, at Worcester. With complaints coming thick and fast off the field, on it the Saints are a mess. If they had lost by 20 points they could not enter a plea of anything but guilty. If Saracens had drilled home their forward superiority instead of trying to flash the ball about in the second half, Northampton's embarrassment would have been total.

However, if Shane Drahm's stoppage-time penalty had not struck the underside of the crossbar or his even later drop at goal not flown wide, Saints would have edged it.

Saints scored through Paul Diggin's try, a conversion and a penalty by Drahm, while Saracens claimed a penalty try and a Glen Jackson conversion and penalty. A try by Corne Krige edged Saints ahead, but Dan Harris' try and two Jackson penalties gave Saracens' celebrations a diamond glitter.

Northampton: Tries Diggin, Krige; Conversions Drahm 2; Penalties Drahm 2. Saracens: Tries: Penalty, Harris; Conversion Jackson; Penalties Jackson 3.

Northampton: B Reihana; W Human, N Starling (M Tucker, 58), C Hyndman, P Diggin; S Drahm, J Howard; S Emms, D Richmond, C Budgen (R Morris, h- t), S Boome, M Lord, D Fox, C Krige (capt), M Soden (I Sipa, 66).

Saracens: M Bartholomeusz; B Johnston, T Castaignede (K Sorrell, 49), D Harris (N Little, 72), T Vaikone; G Jackson, K Bracken (M Raululi, 60); K Yates (N Lloyd, 60), M Cairns (R Ibanez, 60), C Visagie, K Chesney (S Taylor, 60), I Fullarton, T Randell, D Seymour, H Vyvyan (capt).

Referee: S Lander (Warrington).