Cohen strikes as Exiles are beaten by the clock

Northampton 25 London Irish 23
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The Independent Online

When Riki Flutey, the London Irish fly-half, hoofed the ball into touch near his own line, he did so because he thought, with seven minutes of added time having ticked by, that his kick would be the last of the game.

In fact there were a further two and a half minutes to be played out in front of a mammoth 13,262 crowd at Franklin's Gardens and the last kick was made by a Northampton boot. It turned the match on its head.

Those final 150 seconds were more than enough time for Northampton to sneak in for a late try courtesy of the England wing Ben Cohen, which levelled affairs, and for Bruce Reihana to secure their first Premiership victory at home - and only their second of the season - with that last kick, a touchline conversion.

Flutey was shattered. He had had an opportunity to send play deep into Saints territory with a penalty during added time, but, he explained: "I kicked the ball into touch because seven minutes of added time had passed and I thought the game would be over once the ball went out of play."

"Three of us checked our watches," explained Chris White, England's most senior referee, referring to his two touch judges, "and we were within 10 seconds of each other."

White insisted that all the players knew how much time was left at each stoppage during added time.

There was no doubting that the players knew that there was still time left after the regulation 80 minutes, but how much depended on who they were asking.

The Exiles' captain, Mike Catt, thought there was six minutes remaining; his team-mate Kieron Dawson thought it was five; Flutey reckoned seven.

Brian Smith, the Exiles' director of rugby, at least knew that four minutes remained when 45 had already been played, which was right on the button.

But as White pointed out, at the start of the season "there were supposed to be clocks at all the grounds, showing everyone, crowd, players and officials, how much time remained".

No one has got around to supplying the timepieces, hence confusion reigns. But none of the home fans were complaining when Cohen powered over for his third try of the season.

Reihana, who scored two tries of his own and kicked two penalties and another conversion, then teed up the ball in absolute silence. Flutey's 18-point haul in his second game for the Exiles - made up of a converted try, a conversion of Dom Fea'unati's try and three penalties - was for nought.

Northampton: Tries Reihana 2, Cohen; Conversions Reihana 2; Penalties Reihana 2. London Irish: Tries Flutey, Fea'unati; Conversions Flutey 2; Penalties Flutey 3.

Northampton: B Reihana (capt); S Lamont (J Rudd, 80), J Clarke, D Quinlan (R Davies, 74), B Cohen; C Spencer, M Robinson (J Howard, 57); T Smith, D Richmond (S Thompson, 57), C Budgen (B Sturgess, 71), D Gérard (M Lord, 61), D Browne, D Fox, S Harding, S Boome (M Soden, 64).

London Irish: M Horak; S Staniforth (D Armitage, 40), R Penney, M Catt (capt), D Fea'unati; R Flutey, B Willis; N Hatley, A Flavin, R Skuse (F Rautenbach, 61), R Casey, N Kennedy, D Danaher, K Dawson, P Murphy (J-M Leguizamon, 40).

Referee: C White (Gloucestershire).