Carlos keeps the chill winds at bay for Saints

Worcester 11 Northampton 15
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The Independent Online

Chris White is regarded as one of the best referees in the world and yesterday he made one of the bravest decisions of his career. With less than a minute left on the clock a capacity crowd at Sixways were beginning to celebrate a famous victory as Aisea Havili dived over in the right-hand corner.

The Tongan and almost everybody else were ecstatic until they discovered that White had judged that the scoring pass from Shane Drahm was forward. The anti-climax was almost tangible. Worcester had appeared beaten when Northampton scored two tries late on and built a nine-point lead. The hosts finally began to put a few moves together and saved their best until last.

After brilliant approach play, Worcester found the key to unlock the Saints defence, sending the flanker Kai Horstmann surging through a gap. With the deficit reduced to four points, Worcester found the confidence and the form and the skill to go for the kill. In the 82nd minute they put together another marvellous passage of play, which ended with Drahm sending Havili clear down the right wing: game, set and forward pass. Worcester took the disappointment on the chin, shrugging it off as one those things, even though they admitted "it could be very costly".

Had the try been allowed Worcester, without the conversion, would have won 16-15 instead of suffering their fourth defeat in a row. White's decision looked too close too call and even Paul Grayson, the Northampton coach who was sitting on the touchline, was non-committal. "I don't know whether it was forward," Grayson said. "From where I was sitting it would have been like appealing for lbw from square leg."

As close as they came to pulling off a sensational victory, Worcester barely deserved to win a match that for long periods was dominated by the Saints pack. And behind them they had a match-winner in Carlos Spencer.

Whatever Northampton are paying him, and it's a lot, Spencer demonstrated that the investment could be the difference between the warmth of the Guinness Premiership and the anonymity of National League One. In conditions like something out of Ice Station Zebra, the one-time New Zealand show pony was by no means foot perfect but he had enough nous and skill to keep his side's heads above the water. Some of his kicking out of hand, from the outside of the boot, was inspired but above all he invariably did the right thing at the right time and in a war of attrition his contribution was invaluable.

So was his perfectly judged cross kick in the 68th minute that led to a try for Ben Cohen on the left wing. As the ball hung in the air, Cohen timed his leap perfectly and he was able to gather under the nose of Havili. Although tackled, Cohen, making a comeback after fracturing a cheekbone three weeks ago, did well to touch down. The England wing had come on in the first half for John Rudd, who had done nothing wrong, on the grounds that he had had nothing to do other than catch hypothermia.

Until the brilliant finish it had been that kind of game, dictated by the awful conditions. The packs went at it like a couple of angry dray horses and it was the Northampton forwards who took the beer home. After James Brown had kicked Worcester into a ninth-minute lead with a penalty, the Saints laid siege during a spell that denied the home side a whiff of the ball for about 10 minutes. Against a terrific defence their only reward was a penalty by Bruce Reihana and the score at half time was an old fashioned 3-3 after Brown failed with a penalty following an offence by Cohen.

The Saints, repeatedly beaten by Worcester in the league (at the end of last season they were done here in a desperate encounter), managed to convert their pressure into points in the 62nd minute when the excellent Jon Clarke cut through, Reihana carried it on and the upshot was a try for Steve Thompson. No sooner had Drahm, brought on to upset his former club, landed a penalty to make it 8-6 than another Clarke run led to Spencer's kick for Cohen's try.

A measure of Worcester's progress is that nobody likes going to Sixways. They are fully paid-up members of the awkward squad.

Worcester: T Delport; A Havili, D Rasmussen, T Lombard, M Tucker; J Brown (S Drahm, 50), M Powell (A Gomarsall, 63); T Windo (capt), C Fortey, T Tuamoepeau (L Fortey, 66), P Murphy (E O'Donoghue, 60), C Gillies, K Horstmann, D Hickey, J Tuamoheloa (T Harding, 66).

Northampton: B Reihana (capt); S Lamont, J Clarke, R Kydd (A Vilk, 64), J Rudd (B Cohen, 35); C Spencer, M Robinson; T Smith (S Emms, 60), S Thompson, C Budgen (D Hartley, 77), Damien Browne, M Lord (D Gérard, 60), P Tupai, Daniel Browne (G Seely, 60), B Lewitt.

Referee: C White (Gloucestershire).