Gloucester 28 Northampton 7: Forrester and Richards state their Test cases

England pair make an unholy mess of Saints' defence ahead of national get-together
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The Independent Online

Peter Richards took a hold of this match, as a second-half substitute, blazing with desire and energy from his bootlaces to his 200-watt hairdo. Gloucester had hitherto been painstakingly creeping towards an extension of their unbeaten start to the season and overnight leadership of the Premiership table. With Richards providing much-needed forward momentum from scrum-half, a three-point lead became an emphatic victory.

Gloucester have a long injury list, but their opponents' 80 minutes - or 90-plus as it invariably is these days - mirrored their disrupted preparation. Northampton's week began with an allegation of racism against one of their number and the announcement that Budge Pountney, their director of rugby, will leave next May. It ended here with a potentially serious injury to their captain, Bruce Reihana, and two yellow cards, most woundingly one to the flanker Paul Tupai for a stamp on Gloucester's No 8, James Forrester, late in the first half.

The England coaches had a six-hour selection meeting in midweek, preparatory to a three-day training session at Loughborough starting tomorrow, and the names of Richards and Forrester must have featured. Neither has shown in their limited international experience to date the full range of Test skills, but they would certainly be form choices if a Red Rose XV were selected right now.

Gloucester's fly-half, Ludovic Mercier, made his first start of the season. The youngster Ryan Lamb and Kiwi import Willie Walker have been holding sway, but with Lamb suffering a twisted ankle during the summer and Walker last week joining the barely walking wounded - eight of themfor Gloucester - the Frenchman got his chance. He looked ill at ease, and missed four shots at goal, but neither he nor the former Edinburgh scrum-half Rory Lawson were helped by a haphazard line-out.

Northampton also won a scrum against the head, which led to the first try of the match after 15 minutes, with the score at 3-0 after a penalty by Mercier. On the counter, Ben Cohen chased a chip and earned a line-out near the left corner. The ball flashed into midfield and Carlos Spencer dabbed it through the defence again for David Quinlan - any one of three Saints who might have scored - to claim the try. Robbie Kydd converted for a 7-3 lead, with Reihana already off the field after hurting his right knee attempting to tackle Olly Morgan. Northampton's head coach, Paul Grayson, was fearful last night that Reihana had damaged cruciate ligaments.

It has become de rigueur to expect most of Gloucester's good stuff to surround Forrester. It was his athletic move to the middle of the line which paved the way for a try he finished himself after 22 minutes. Forrester took the catch, looped around into the backs to make a monkey of Darren Fox as the flanker attempted to tackle him and concluded with a joyous 40-metre gallop to the posts. Mercier converted for a 10-7 lead at half-time, and added a penalty three minutes after the restart, by which time Mefin Davies had replaced Olivier Azam, whose line-out throws were often lobbed rather than fired in, allowing Northampton to spoil.

Lawson did not last much longer, with Richards brought on. "We knew that Pete can win games off his own back," Gloucester's director of rugby, Dean Ryan, said afterwards, though he was in no way disregarding Andy Hazell's mastery of the down and dirty stuff.

For the second season running, the fixture ended with uncontested scrums. Saints followed the letter of the law - they provided a replacement prop and hooker - but when their tighthead, Pat Barnard, limped off, the game was up for proper shoving. Barnard had manfully put himself into a scrum not long before which wheeled so fast the Northampton hooker Steve Thompson's feet could hardly have touched the ground: penalty to Gloucester, which Mercier potted from 35m for 16-7.

With Barnard struggling on, a Gloucester maul brought a try for Hazell after 66 minutes, with Mercier converting. Richards' punting and passing turned the screw. As the countdown clock reached zero, Cohen's chase back to cover a Gloucester kick ended with the ball ricocheting off his shins to the nearest home player, Jack Adams, for Gloucester's third try. They have yet to gather a bonus point but, by any means they can find, they are getting the job done.

Gloucester: O Morgan; J Bailey, R Keil (J Adams, 70), A Allen, M Foster; L Mercier, R Lawson (P Richards, 46); N Wood (J Boer, 67), O Azam (M Davies, 40), C Califano (J Forster, 56), A Eustace, M Bortolami (capt), P Buxton, J Forrester, A Hazell.

Northampton: R Kydd; S Lamont, B Reihana (capt; L Myring, 8), D Quinlan, B Cohen; C Spencer, M Robinson (I Vass, 71); T Smith (C Budgen, 43), S Thompson, P Barnard (D Richmond, 67), M Lord (Damien Browne, 68), C Short, P Tupai, Daniel Browne (M Easter, 68), D Fox (S Harding, 57).

Referee: S Davey (Sussex).

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