Blowers blows hot for Northampton

Northampton 33 Newcastle 20
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Northampton Saints won and won well according to the scoreline, but it took a much-needed second-half improvement, especially from the forwards, who stuttered badly in the first period.

Where earlier they had turned the ball over, failed to secure their set-pieces and had generally been untidy, they became cohesive, organised and disciplined. Andrew Blowers, unsurprisingly, led the improvement, but Saints were best served throughout by the accomplished stand-off, Shane Drahm.

He kicked as well as Newcastle's famous son on duty in Australia and scampered between the posts for a vital try in the 68th minute to give the home side an 11-point lead, which was protected by Blowers' magpie activities on the floor and menacing presence in the defensive line, and two further tries by Nick Beal to secure a bonus point and fourth place on the table.

"We can't be too down on ourselves because I feel that we are playing good rugby,'' said Rob Andrew, Newcastle's director of rugby, "But we didn't take all our chances and I suppose they did.''

It had looked very different at the interval, when Newcastle led, albeit by just a conversion after scoring two tries. The first, in the 11th minute, needed a deft kick inside to Jamie Noon by Michael Stephenson as his opposite, Bruce Reihana, was about to tackle him into touch metres from the tryline. The second, by Marius Hurter in the 29th minute, was equally well-executed, if different - a rehearsed catch and drive from a line-out five metres from the try-line.

''At that stage we looked the more likely winners,'' Andrew said, "but there was a swing in the second half - the Drahm try and first Beal try, where we had attacked and been turned over or failed to score. And then they went and scored.''

This is partly correct, but not entirely. Last-ditch tackles had prevented Epi Taione and Stephenson from scoring, and Northampton had swiftly turned defence into attack by judicious kicking and thrilling running - particularly by Beal, whose second score came from a 60-metre sprint.

But equally damagingly, they relinquished momentum at the end of the first half when a malfunctioning line-out led to five minutes' pressure and a try for Johnny Howard. A possible seven-point lead was cut to two, and soon after the resumption that became a deficit as Drahm kicked two penalties and Saints, led impressively by Blowers, started to dominate.

Northampton: N Beal (capt); J Clarke (J Sleightholme, 64), M Tucker, J Leslie, B Reihana; S Drahm, J Howard (M Robinson, 44); B Sturgess, D Richmond (M Miles, 74), C Budgen (J Golding, 77), M Lord (J Phillips, 70), R Hunter, M Connors (G Seely, 54), D Fox, A Blowers.

Newcastle: J Shaw (D Walder, 55); M Stephenson, J Noon, M Mayerhofler, B Gollings (T May, 63); P Gudman, H Charlton (J Grindal, 50); I Peel, N Makin, M Hurter (M Ward, 40), G Archer, M Andrews, J Dunbar (E Taione, 59), W Britz, H Vyvyan.

Referee: G Ashton Jones (Fareham).