Having helped turn on the town’s Christmas lights on Thursday evening, Courtney Lawes snuffed out the Newcastle Falcons as Northampton Saints consolidated their place behind Saracens at the top of the Premiership.
Northampton were missing nine international players either injured, suspended or away playing Tests, but Lawes followed up a formidable autumn series in England colours with some trademark tackles of terror on Newcstle’s beleagured fly-half Phil Godman.
It took Saints until midway through the second half to score their tries by the centres James Wilson and Luther Burrell but Newcastle were limited to playing some tidy but essentially unthreatening rugby three weeks after losing their most recent Premiership match 40-3 at Saracens.
The Falcons’ main concern is not the top two, but staying clear of the bottom one, and with Worcester yet to win a league match this season they may get their way.
Newcastle’s head coach Dean Richards was angry at the “inconsistencies” of his refereeing namesake from Berkshire, and the two assistants, citing Northampton being allowed to bore in at the scrum and compete after the tackle as two examples of offences the visitors were penalised for. “We got nothing all day long,” said Richards, not referring only to the scoreboard, and he spent much of the match nattering on the touchline to the fourth official, Andrew Small.
They were joined at one point by Northampton’s forwards coach Dorian West – an old Leicester team-mate of Newcastle’s ‘Deano’. They kept it good natured as far as anyone could tell but in a more highly charged match the chit-chat might have been better taking place somewhere less public.
Talking of differences of opinion, the statement by the five Unions from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Italy and France that they would organise Europe’s club competitions next season led Northampton’s chief executive Allan Robson to promise “plenty of exciting announcements over the coming months” regarding the rival Champions Cup organised by England’s Premiership Rugby Ltd.
Four groups of four teams in two competitions televised by BT is what PRL are currently talking about, administered in Switzerland for tax purposes. But they were waiting anxiously on Friday’s meeting between the French Federation’s chairman Pierre Camou and the Top 14’s Paul Goze to discover how easy or difficult it will be to get the French clubs involved.
There are conflicting claims too over which competition Wales’s regions will take part in.
One thing we know for certain that Northampton will play Leinster home and away in the existing Heineken Cup in December, and they expect to call on two of yesterday’s absentees Dylan Hartley and Tom Wood who finished England’s autumn internationals with bruising to the lungs and ribs respectively. No such worries for Lawes whose impression of a human cruise missile flying into tackles made life a misery for Godman.
Nevertheless points were hard to come by for Northampton until a yellow card to Carlo del Fava for killing the ball in the 30th minute left Newcastle a man short.
Steve Myler, whose kicking has been outstanding this season, put Saints 6-0 up for Del Fava’s offence and a similar one after the six minutes before the interval, around the time Richards the coach first left his seat to have a moan about Richards the ref. “He must have been watching a different match,” said Jim Mallinder, the Northampton boss of his Falcons opposite number.
“Newcastle slowed everything down and I actually don’t think we got just reward for our scrum.”
Mallinder also predicted a layoff of “three or four months” after knee surgery for Saints’ England and Lions prop Alex Corbisiero while Ben Foden, at full-back here after Test duty on the left wing against Argentina and New Zealand, succumbed to a jarred knee not long after Wilson scored the first Northampton try in the 59th minute.
Jamie Elliott made a beautifully adroit catch and pass on the run to free Wilson near the right-hand touchline and the New Zealander zipped past Ryan Shortland and held off Danny Barnes’s last-ditch tackle.
Then it took a ludicrous, near five minute long consideration by the television match official before Burrell - a fringe candidate for England who showed his silky passing but often failed to keep moves going after being tackled - was given Saints’ second try with 63 minutes gone.
Newcastle were struggling behind a backpedalling scrum and Burrell forced the ball from Barnes’s grasp before making the airiest of groundings and Myler converted.
Northampton Saints: B Foden (D Waldouck 61); J Elliott, J Wilson (G Dickson 73), L Burrell, T Collins; S Myler, L Dickson (A Day 73); A Waller (E Waller 66), M Haywood (R McMillan 73), S Ma’afu (T Mercey 60), C Lawes (B Nutley 66), C Day (GJ van Velze 64), C Clark, P Dowson (capt), S Dickinson.
Newcastle Falcons: A Tait; N Cato, D Barnes, A Powell (J Fitzpatrick 69), R Shortland; P Godman (R Clegg 66), M Blair (W Fury 66); R Vickers (G Shiells 66), S Lawson (G McGuigan 64), O Tomaszczyk (S Wilson 63), C del Fava, F McKenzie (S MacLeod 60), R Mayhew, W Welch (capt), A Hogg (C York 69).
Referee: D Richards (Berkshire)