Grand Slam injury setback for Johnson

Northampton 11 Leicester 21
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The Independent Online

The England captain, Martin Johnson, has a suspected broken bone in his hand and is likely to miss England's remaining 2001 Six Nations match, against Ireland in Dublin on Saturday, when they will be going for the Grand Slam.

He sustained the injury in the first half when he fell awkwardly while tackling his opposite number, Andy New- man, at a short line-out. He did not leave the field immediately, but was replaced at half-time and watched the second half from the dug-out with ice packed tightly around his left wrist.

Leicester's director of rugby, the former England No 8 Dean Richards, said: "We believe he may have broken his left hand. He will have X-rays and we will take it from there. He played on for a while after the incident but at half-time he said he was struggling to grip things."

The injury marred a pulsating local derby enjoyed by a sell-out crowd of 11,700 – a record for this East Midlands tie at this venue. Northampton came close to denting Leicester pride, in the process becoming only the second side this season to score a try against the much-vaunted Tigers' defence, but in the end the Premiership leaders did enough to leave the ground with all the booty.

It was quite a day. A host of VIPs were on hand for the opening of the new £5.5m, 8,000 capacity stand,and the Northampton players were keen to add to the celebrations by opening up one of the most formidable defences in the country.

That the first quarter yielded only a penalty apiece was no surprise. Saints drew first blood – literally – with Leicester's England flanker Neil Back leaving the field in the second minute to receive stitches to a cut over his right eye. That earnt the All Black Josh Kronfeld his long-awaited debut for Tigers, which initially lasted eight minutes when he came on as a blood replacement, during which time Paul Grayson slotted his first penalty.

Tigers bided their time, soaking up a lot of early pressure but giving very little ground, until Tim Stimpson levelled affairs in the 21st minute. Both teams were giving as good as they got in the physical exchanges. So heated did it become that before the first 20 minutes were over each side had been reduced to 14 men, with yellow cards being shown to Tigers' Graham Rowntree and Saints' captain, Budge Pountney.

But as the first half went into added time, the unthink-able happened. The Saints centre John Leslie intercepted Andy Goode's pass, and the Scotland international knifed between two flailing Tigers and scorched 60 metres to end a run of some 450 minutes in which Leicester had not conceded a try.

Leicester had gradually been picking up the pace, and could have scored a try of their own when Johnson looked to have been put clear through by Rod Kafer. The Tigers captain lost the ball, however, brushing between defenders.

Tigers pulled themselves back a little with a Goode drop goal 40 seconds after the restart, but by now they were without Johnson. They coped, though, and their patience was rewarded after they worked their way up the Northampton line and Austin Healey ended a series of rucks by picking up and muscling over. Although Stimpson missed the conversion, he made up for it by doing the deed when Kafer pounced on a rebound off a Saints defender and raced under the posts.

Steve Booth's drop goal shortly afterwards ended the contest, but Northampton did not give up, countering when they could, which was not often as Leicester leaned on them ever harder.

Northampton: P Grayson; C Moir (L Martin, 29), P Jorgensen, J Leslie, B Cohen; J Brooks, M Dawson; T Smith (K Todd, 79), S Thompson (S Brotherstone, 79), M Stewart, A Newman (J Phillips, 71), O Brouzet, A Blowers, G Seely, B Pountney (capt).

Leicester: T Stimpson (J Hamilton, 44-62); S Booth, G Gelderbloom, R Kafer, O Smith; A Goode, A Healey (J Hamilton, 80); G Rowntree, D West, D Garforth (R Nebbett, 79), M Johnson (capt; L Deacon, h-t), B Kay (J Kronfeld, 70), W Johnson (Nebbett, 6-13; L Moody, 50), P Short, N Back (Kronfeld, 2-10).

Referee: C White (Cheltenham).