It was a bad day for the Saints, and for their sinners too. Northampton's desperate attempts to cling on to the hope of a Heineken Cup quarter-final place disappeared in a last-minute flash of temper in the balmily snow-free west end of Glasgow yesterday. With the scores tied at 20-20 and 52 seconds left, Jim Mallinder's men were pressing in the right corner for the fourth try they required to secure a bonus-point victory when replacement prop Alex Waller chose to execute a right-handed punch that was spotted by the touch-judge.
In the grand scheme of things it mattered little that Peter Horne proceeded to win the Pool Four contest for Glasgow with a dazzling solo try in overtime – although a draw would have left the English visitors with a better chance of making the Amlin Cup than the token one they now have. Saints still have a slim chance of making the consolation tournament but in terms of the premier competition this was a definitive knockout blow.
Another blow came with the repercussions for England. The whack that Calum Clark took to his right shoulder two minutes before the interval could rule him out of the selection equation for England's Six Nations opener against Scotland at Twickenham on 2 February – a possible unlucky break for the blindside flanker who was called into Stuart Lancaster's squad a fortnight ago, and who served a 32-week suspension for inflicting an arm-breaking injury on Leicester's Rob Hawkins in the LV Cup final last March.
"Calum's certainly got a very sore shoulder," Mallinder, Northampton's director of rugby, reported afterwards. "I think he's done a little bit of damage there. He's in a sling at the moment."
Thankfully, Courtney Lawes suffered less serious damage after a head-to-head Glasgow kiss of a collision with home centre Graeme Morrison that led to his premature departure just after the interval. "Courtney's not too bad," Mallinder said of the England second-row dynamo. "He took a bang to the head and his shoulder, a little bit of a stinger, but hopefully he'll be fine."
Unlike Northampton's Heineken hopes, which ultimately got caught twixt cup and lip in the need to chase a four-try bonus point while at the same time securing victory. The latter itself was never likely to be easy against a Glasgow side coached by the former Saint Gregor Townsend and who are determined to finish their European campaign on a high.
The Warriors were 6-0 up by the 11th minute courtesy of two penalties from stand-off Ruaridh Jackson. It took 14 minutes for Northampton to get points on the board, Stephen Myler landing a penalty for offside, but they threatened to cut loose soon after, wing Jamie Elliott very nearly squeaking over in the left corner.
The breakthrough came in the 31st minute. Dylan Hartley found Tom Wood at a line-out on the right and Saints worked the ball, via Lee Dickson and Myler, to Dom Waldouck, who crashed through two would-be tacklers to deposit the ball against the left-hand upright.
It was a fine score by the inside-centre, a Heineken Cup final winner with Wasps back in 2007, and vital for their pursuit of the bonus point. A second try before half-time would have further eased the pressure on that front, but Northampton were fortunate to still be in front at the interval, Stuart Hogg and Sean Maitland contriving to butcher a clear scoring opportunity for Glasgow.
It was different seven minutes into the second-half, flanker Josh Strauss barging through four defenders en route to the line. Scott Wight's conversion made it 13-10 to Glasgow and all of a sudden Northampton were looking at the match score not the try count. The introduction of Ryan Lamb got them back on track. A replacement for Myler in the 56th minute, the former Gloucester outside-half gave Saints an immediate injection of attacking zip.
A cross-field kick very nearly put Elliott in on the left and then a quick feed out to the right gave centre George Pisi the space to sidestep through the over-stretched Glasgow defence for Northampton's second try. That left the Saints with 22 minutes in which to secure the victory and the bonus point.
They suffered a jolt when Niko Matawalu, Glasgow's Fijian scrum-half and their brightest creative spark, intercepted a Ben Foden pass on halfway and raced up-field to score. Foden made amends with a try on the overlap in the 72nd minute, Lamb's wayward conversion attempt leaving the scores tied at 20-20.
Then, in a dramatic denouement, came Waller's indiscretion and Horne's match-winning try from a mazy 50-yard counterattack.
"We were in a good position with two minutes remaining but unfortunately we showed a little bit of ill-discipline," Mallinder lamented.
Glasgow S Hogg; T Seymour (S Kennedy, 58), B McGuigan (P Horne, 55), G Morrison, S Maitland; R Jackson (S Wight, 35; A Dunbar, 70), N Matawalu; G Reid (R Grant, 61), P MacArhtur (D Hall, 51), M Low, T Swinson, A Kellock (capt) (T Ryder, 25-29), J Strauss, J Eddie, R Wilson (T Ryder, 47).
Northampton Saints B Foden; J Wilson (T May, 55), G Pisi, D Waldouck, J Elliott; S Myler (R Lamb, 56), L Dickson; S Tonga'uiha (A Waller, 55), D Hartley (capt) (M Hayward, 68), P Doran-Jones (T Mercey, 55), S Manoa, C Lawes (R Oakley, 51), C Clark (M Sorensen, 38), T Wood, P Dowson.
Referee L Hodges (Wales).
Tries: Strauss, Matawalu, Horne
Cons: Wight 2, Horne
Pens: Jackson 2
Tries: Waldouck, Pisi, Foden