Rugby Union: Wasps wilt before guns and roses

Northampton 26 Wasps 21
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The Independent Online
THERE WAS a lot to please the England coach, Clive Woodward, at Franklins Gardens. His squad members were positively blooming, the bouquets flung in profusion. And, while it would be natural to expect each coach to stick up for his own, Northampton's Ian McGeechan is not given to hyperbole.

So, when he assesses fullback Nick Beal saying: "He is playing the best rugby of his career. All I can say to Clive is `Here is a player at the peak of his form'," you are compelled to take note.

He was equally effusive about stand-off Paul Grayson, who made his first start (and stayed on) for a couple of weeks after losing his form. Of him McGeechan said: "He has not been playing well and he would tell you that, but today he looked as though he wanted to play. That was the best of the season by far."

But if you are still not convinced, Lawrence Dallaglio, a member of the opposition, who also happens to be England captain, summed up Grayson's display with: "I was impressed. Paul played well today. He looked like a player who had been playing every week. He was competitive. It is good news for England."

As for Dallaglio, today should see whether his knee, twisted in a tackle, will prevent him leading England against the Netherlands at Huddersfield on Saturday.

Grayson certainly put in a fine all-round performance, kicking superbly out of hand or off the ground, repeatedly turning Wasps back, and forever punishing their many transgressions with penalty goals. But as good as he was, It was Pat Lam who galvanised Saints in the first 20 minutes when all the serious damage was done.

The Western Samoan was incredible throughout, but in that first quarter the Northampton No 8 was out of this world. He would put in heavy hits in the thick of the action, get to his feet and pop up in the centre, in time to take and then give telling passes. One of those was to fellow back rower Don Mackinnon, who went on to score the first try. A second found Beal, who burst brilliantly on to the ball before his searing pace saw him scorching over the line.

Mackinnon blotted his copy book a little later when he was sent to the sin-bin for punching Wasps' England prop Will Green - another bit of good news for England here because Green more than held his own against the fearsome Garry Page.

Northampton: Tries Mackinnon, Beal; Conversions Grayson 2; Penalties Grayson 4. Wasps: Tries Volley, Logan; Conversion Logan; Penalties Logan 3.

Northampton: N Beal; C Moir, D Dantiacq, M Allen, J Sleightholme; P Grayson, M Dawson (capt); G Pagel, C Johnson, M Hynes, R Metcalfe, T Rodber, D Mackinnon (G Seely, 59), P Lam, B Pountney.

Wasps: J Ufton; S Roiser, L Scrase, R Henderson (N Greenstock, 70), K Logan; J Lewsey, M Friday (A Gomarsall, 70); D Molloy, T Leota, W Green, M Weedon (capt), S Shaw, J Worsley, L Dallaglio (E Rollitt, 76), P Volley.

Referee: G Warren (Bristol).