Drahm eases Saints' crisis

Northampton 26 - Leicester 11
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Matches between these two great East Midlands rivals are rarely uneventful affairs and this tumultuous contest proved to be no exception. While little of the action was marred by malice aforethought, all of it was conducted with a thoughtful enmity, and graced with some masterful football by both sides. When the aroma of cordite eventually cleared, Northampton had pulled themselves off the foot of the table. Their unrelenting commitment and more inventive approach work deserved nothing less.

Those who believed that Leicester had only to turn up at a packed Franklin's Gardens to exacerbate the differences between the Premiership leaders and the team propping up the table, were obliged to reconsider as early as the third minute when Shane Drahm crossed for a try.

The dismissal of Neil Back to the sin bin cost Leicester 13 points as Drahm kicked the resultant penalty, before dropping a goal with his left foot. Then, as Back was primed to return, Saints scored a second try which took them to 18-3. Drahm initiated it and Bruce Reihana took it on, for the burly John Rudd to touch down.

Martin Johnson's yellow card had no more damaging effect than Drahm's second penalty, because the Saints prop Simon Emms was dismissed at the same time after a bout of hand-bagging with the Leicester captain. From then on, out-and-out violence was off limits; what remained on the menu was sustained physical intensity from both sides, spiced with some brilliant running rugby by Northampton.

Much as Leicester dominated the second half, they never broke free of Saints' defensive stranglehold. With Matt Lord assuming a regal command of the line-out, Saints finished strongly, and Ben Cohen finished Leicester off with a try in the right corner.

Northampton: Tries Drahm, Rudd, Cohen; Conversion Drahm; Penalties Drahm 2; Drop goal Drahm. Leicester: Try Lloyd; Penalties Vesty 2.

Northampton: B Reihana; J Rudd, N Starling (W Human, 54), M Stcherina, B Cohen; S Drahm, J Howard; S Emms, D Richmond, R Morris (B Sturgess, 78), M Lord (C Budgen, 79), D Browne (G Seely, 53), D Fox (B Sturgess, 29-39), C Krige, A Blowers (M Soden, 75).

Leicester: S Rabeni (A Tuilagi, 67); A Healey, L Lloyd, D Gibson, J Holtby (D Hipkiss, 75); S Vesty, S Bemand; M Holford, G Chuter (J Buckland, 67), D Morris (J Rawson, 75), M Johnson, J Hamilton, W Johnson (B Deacon, 50), N Back, H Tuilagi (L Abraham, 66).

Referee: A Rowden (Berkshire).