Northampton boosted their hopes of a place in the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup with a solid bonus-point win over the Borders in a match switched from storm-lashed Netherdale to Murrayfield at very short notice. The Saints now face Biarritz at Franklin's Gardens on Sunday to decide who will progress as winners of Pool Six.
The referee, George Clancy of Ireland, was of the opinion that the Gala ground was unplayable. The Northampton coach, Paul Grayson, was in agreement, so the game moved to Edinburgh and the Northampton players, not to mention the supporters who had an extra 100 miles to travel, would not be at home until at least midnight.
The Borders coach, Steve Bates, argued that his side would be deprived of home advantage and that his ground was playable.
Peter Brown, the citing commissioner for the match, also inspected the pitch. "In the final analysis the referee decides, but I have seen far worse here and almost everywhere else," said the former Scotland captain, who had a long career with Gala.
Either way, the decisions reflect poorly on rugby in Scotland and the referee. Would the decision have been made if Sky had been televising the game?.
Eventually, after a 5pm kick-off in the capital, the Borders hooker Ross Ford scored a smart try in the left corner. Calum MacRae failed with the conversion. The Kiwi flanker Paul Tupai, who is making something of a name for himself at Franklin's Gardens, grabbed a try back, which Carlos Spencer converted before adding a penalty.
Simon Danielli, with an alert interception on the right touchline, sped away for a surprise try at the posts to put the Borders level, and this time MacRae converted for a 12-10 lead, though he missed with a subsequent penalty.
With half-time approaching the full-back Paul Diggin scored a second try for Northampton. Spencer added the points, so at half-time it was 17-12 to the English club.
Ben Cohen, the Saints winger who is in the England Saxons squad and who has not scored a try for Northampton since injury in October, snaffled two cracking touchdowns at the start of the second half.
For the first, he showed a flash of remarkable pace to score at the posts. Spencer converted. His next try, which added a bonus point, was not converted.
MacRae then received a terrific pass from Gregor Townsend and converted his own score. Although the Borders then played some attacking rugby, with the lock Stuart Grimes to the fore, they could find no way breach the Northampton defence.
Borders: Tries Ford, Danielli, MacRae; Conversions MacRae 2. Northampton: Tries Tupai, Diggin, Cohen 2; Conversions Spencer 3; Penalty Spencer.
Borders: C MacRae (capt); S Danielli, G Law, B Rennie, (S Jones, 25), B Daniel (M Robertson, 12); G Townsend, R Christie; G Kerr (E Calman, 40), R Ford, B Douglas, S Grimes, O'Paepoi (R Vernon, 73), S Newlands, (J Dalziel, 48), A Miller, K Brown.
Northampton: P Diggin, (R Laird, 74); S Lamont, B Cohen, R Kydd, J Howard; C Spencer, M Robinson; T Smith, S Thompson, (capt; D Hartley, 63), P Barnard, C Short, D Gerard (M Lord, 63), P Tupai (C Budgen, 33-40), D Fox, (B Lewitt, 63), D Brown (M Easter, 80).
Referee: G Clancy (Ireland).Reuse content