Rugby Union:Hard lesson for Northampton

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The Independent Online
Northampton 25 Gloucester 27

There ought to be a profound sense of underachievement at Northampton, though one doubts there will. Since Wayne Shelford introduced some Kiwi steel to Saints in 1990, there has been a losing appearance in a Pilkington Cup final, a spell in the Second Division, and this disappointing season which ended with Saturday's home defeat by Gloucester.

How do Northampton do it? Franklins Gardens is a terrific place for rugby; they have a sizeable and loyal, if critically unexacting core of supporters; a squad containing five current and two former Lions, four other capped internationals, and all coached by Ian McGeechan, who by common consent, has one of the finest rugby brains in the land.

Yet for all their talent, Northampton surrendered tamely on their own patch in the cup, were not much better in the European Conference and, but for their only two league victories away from home - at relegated Orrell and West Hartlepool - might have been fighting for their First Division survival in Wednesday's play-offs.

Given Saints' resources, it has been a campaign which does not add up to very much. And, while injuries have played their disruptive part, one has to conclude that Northampton do not possess the essential hunger for victory, which comes with mother's milk at clubs like Gloucester.

Richard Hill, Gloucester's director of coaching, who is well aware that his squad needs strengthening - and has the money to do so after Tom Walkinshaw's pounds 2.3m funding last week - told his players that, as there was nothing at stake, they should go out and enjoy themselves. Enjoyment is not on Gloucester's agenda unless it results in victory, so they played as if their lives depended upon it.

The only tries of a wildly fluctuating match, in which the lead changed hands eight times, came in the first half, Chris Catling and Audley Lumsden completing sweeping moves to touch down for Gloucester. Saints were awarded a penalty try for a deliberate knock-on and the rest of the points were claimed by the kickers, Alastair Hepher and Gloucester's Mark Mapletoft, whose fifth penalty settled it.

Northampton: Try penalty try; Conversion Hepher; Penalties Hepher 6. Gloucester: Tries Catling, Lumsden; Conversion Mapletoft; Penalties Mapletoft 5.

Northampton: I Hunter (capt; R McNaughton 46); C Moir, (H Thorneycroft, 72), J Bell, M Allen, B Cohen; A Hepher, B Taylor (J Bramall, 50); M Volland, T Beddow (A Clarke, 50), M Stewart, J Phillips, M Bayfield (S Barnes, 55), S Foale, J Cassell, G Seeley.

Gloucester: C Catling; A Lumsden, C Emmerson, A Saverimutto, M Lloyd; M Mapletoft, L Beck; T Windo, J Hawker (T Woodman, 40), A Deacon, R Fidler, D Sims (capt), P Glanville, N Carter (A Stanley, 70), S Devereux.

Referee: C Reeks (Somerset).

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