Geraghty darts in as Lawes knocks on England door

Northampton 31 Munster 27: Martin Johnson can only be encouraged ahead of the autumn internationals after seeing Saints pair plot Munster's downfall
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The Independent Online

The sheer quality wrapped around the shoulders of Shane Geraghty makes it inevitable that Northampton's fly-half will confront the southern hemisphere at Twickenham next month.

However, Geraghty was not the only Saint to shine before the admiring gaze of England manager Martin Johnson in a truly epic Heineken Cup Pool One opener.

Courtney Lawes made such an impact on a Munster team containing 13 full internationals that the Lions captain and second-row Paul O'Connell, predicted a massive future for the locally-born lock.

"For us it's massive disappointment because we came so close to turning things around," he said. "For Lawes I believe there is an exciting future. That was an intense game, as close as you'll get to Test rugby without the caps, and he was at home in that environment."

Lawes, 20, has already won caps at Under-18 and Under-20 levels. At 6ft 7in yet only 17st 4lb, his lean, athletic frame produces pace, great carrying power as well as the ability to play in the back-row. Johnson, a World Cup-winning lock, knows a gem when he sees one, hence the promotion of Lawes to England Saxons three months ago.

Jim Mallinder, Northampton's director of rugby, has no doubts. "He seems set on a path heading in the right direction, and we want to make sure he retains all that make him so effective," he said.

"We do not want him bulking up because it could change the dynamics of his game. Of course there's still much to learn but to hold your own in such company speaks volumes for the lad's potential."

The night, however, belonged to Geraghty. He was immense, the heartbeat as well as the intellect of a Northampton team who raised their game to heights that rekindled memories of 2000, when they pipped Munster 9-8 in the Heineken Cup final at Twickenham. On a personal level, Geraghty scored 21 points from four penalties, two conversions and a stunning try that was to prove the psychological wound from which the visitors took too long to recover.

With half time at the next stoppage, and the score tied at 14-14, Saints were awarded a penalty. Geraghty gave all the initial indications that he would elect to go for goal, and Munster certainly thought so because they switched off. In a decisive blur of action, Geraghty took a tap and darted through the red ranks for a try that shook the Irish side to their confident core.

Geraghty said: "This squad came of age on a very special evening for the club. They truly grew up at a very high level. I'm really enjoying my time here so far, partly because I am playing every weekend, but mostly I'm operating behind a wonderful pack who supply the type of ball I like.

"When the penalty that led to my try was awarded just before the break I noticed some of the Munster boys walking towards their posts. So I backed myself to make the 10 yards against what was a reduced defensive screen. You make those decisions on the hoof, hoping they come off

Despite a superb solo try by Tomas O'Leary, and a counter-attacking strike by David Wallace, it was Geraghty's gifts that proved decisive, his vision creating two tries for wing Chris Ashton.

The opening weekend of Europe's premier club competition could not have been worse for Ireland with Munster's brave but ultimately failed fightback coming 24 hours after holders Leinster were stunned 15-9 by London Irish in Dublin.Lob into the mix Treviso's shock 9-8 victory over Perpignan of France and it's clear we are in for another treat of a tournament.

Northampton: Tries Ashton 2, Geraghty; Conversions Geraghty 2; Penalties Geraghty 4. Munster: Tries Wallace, O'Leary; Conversions O'Gara; Penalties O'Gara 4; Drop-goal Warwick.

Northampton: B Foden; C Ashton, J Clarke, J Downey, B Reihana; S Geraghty, L Dickson (Dickens, 63); S Tonga'uiha, D Hartley (capt), S Bonorino (Mujati, 57), C Lawes (Lobbe, 61), J Kruger, P Dowson, N Best, R Wilson.

Munster: P Warwick; D Howlett, L Mafi (Dowling, 61), J De Villiers, K Earls; R O'Gara, T O'Leary; M Horan, J Flannery, T Buckley (Brugnaut, 66), D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell (capt), A Quinlan (Ryan, 65), D Wallace, D Leamy.

Referee: C Berdos (France)