Northampton pack steamrollers Cardiff
Northampton 23 Cardiff Blues 15
Monday 13 December 2010
There was a very amusing breakdown in personal relations at Franklin's Gardens as the clock ticked past the 80-minute mark, and with any luck, the couple involved will still be throwing crockery at each other when their public hostilities resume in six days' time. At a scrum close to the Cardiff line, Northampton's uber-pack drove forward so violently that the Welshmen crumpled beneath them. Led from the front by Dylan Hartley, who had been in bristling mood all night, the Midlanders stayed on their feet and kept marching, trampling their victims into the earth. Down in the West Country, it is known as the "do si do" routine.
Hartley and his opposite number, Gareth Williams, had a major falling-out as a consequence, and as they began their inevitable journey towards the sin bin, the Northampton captain started telling Williams what he thought of him. He was still telling him when they reached their destination, at which point the Welshman, heartily sick of his role as henpecked husband, turned to stare this nagging housewife of an England hooker in the eye – or rather, being one of the professional game's more vertically challenged front-rowers, in the chest – and was about to settle matters once and for all when back-room staff from both clubs moved in as peace-makers. When the two meet again this coming Sunday it will be in the middle of the field instead of at the edge, and the neighbours may struggle to get there quickly enough.
Hookers have long been a mystery to students of behavioural psychology, and until scientists get their hands on a representative sample of the species, possibly in the confines of Broadmoor, they will remain so. But this incident told us something about Northampton in their new, Euan Murray-less state: namely, that they can absorb the loss of one of the most potent tight-head scrummagers in world rugby without missing a beat. Their set-piece, led by Soane Tonga'uiha and Brian Mujati with the powerful youngster Tom Mercey in reserve, may not win the Heineken Cup, but it should take them deep into the knock-out stages.
Murray's departure had been announced, suddenly and abruptly, on the eve of this game, and after it there was an explanation of sorts. Jim Mallinder, the director of rugby at Franklin's Gardens, divulged that a combination of Mujati's form and moveable kick-off times had brought matters to a head. "Euan wasn't making the team, and with the television people increasing the number of Sunday matches, there was an additional issue," he commented, referring to the devout Murray's refusal to play on the Sabbath.
So it seems ESPN, the principal broadcasters of English club rugby, are making life impossible for Christians, as well as making it a misery for supporters. Last week, the Bath chief executive, Nick Blofeld, wrote an open online letter to fans of the club apologising for the constant alterations to the match schedule. "Sadly," he admitted, "our current business model does make us quite reliant on TV revenue as a key income stream." If the broadacasters' ears are not burning by now, they must be frozen solid.
Northampton's message to the Blues was of the loud and clear variety, and went along the lines of: "You can run with the ball, but you can't hide from our forwards." The Welshmen played with admirable wit and invention when they were given the chance to play at all, but the moment they found themselves being put through the wringer in their own 22 at the end of the first quarter – there were seven scrums in all, each more horrible than the last – they knew in their heart of hearts that they would not escape without a conceding a minimum of five points.
The try duly fell to Paul Diggin in the left corner and was handsomely converted by Stephen Myler, and even though the visitors reached the interval 12-10 up, Paul Tito's fumble from the restart resulted in a run-in for Chris Ashton that amounted to a killer blow. Myler added the extras again before hitting the spot with a couple of penalties, and while Dan Parks replied in kind with a fifth successful kick, the Welshmen returned home with nothing.
"We knew the scrum would be a challenge for us," admitted David Young, the Blues coach, whose own scrummaging prowess earned him Test caps for the British and Irish Lions. "When it's like that, you know every 50-50 decision will go against you. I'm not blaming the referee: he's not the one who has to sort it. We have to sort it ourselves."
Agreed. And what is more, they have to do their sorting quickly.
Scorers: Northampton: Tries Diggin, Ashton. Conversions Myler 2. Penalties Myler 3. Cardiff Blues: Penalties Parks 5.
Northampton B Foden; C Ashton, J Clarke, J Downey, P Diggin; S Myler, R Powell (L Dickson 66); S Tonga'uiha (R Dreyer 85), D Hartley (capt), B Mujati (T Mercey 79), C Lawes, C Day, P Dowson (C Clark 69), T Wood (B Sharman 81), R Wilson.
Cardiff Blues C Czekaj; R Mustoe (J Yapp 44-50, R Williams 82), C Laulala, T Shanklin, T James; D Parks, R Rees; G Jenkins, G Williams, T Filise, B Davies, P Tito (capt, D Paterson 56), M Molitika, M Williams (S Warburton 56), X Rush.
Referee R Poite (France).
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