Grayson provides platform

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The Independent Online

Not a bad day for John Major to make his first public visit to Franklin's Gardens. A man not always associated with championing the cause of Europe, here was his chance to enjoy the European champions.

Not a bad day for John Major to make his first public visit to Franklin's Gardens. A man not always associated with championing the cause of Europe, here was his chance to enjoy the European champions.

For the most part Northampton lived up to their lofty status, even it took a huge effort to wear down the well organised defence of London Irish. That and the incessant drizzle that dampened the bowling green surface made it the sort of game for economical use of the ball in hand, and plenty of opportunities to admire the clever boot of Paul Grayson. The Northampton outside-half, not unlike Major, used to enjoy national pre-eminence at No 10, until the emergence of Jonny Wilkinson. Grayson never did much wrong for England, however, and at club level he remains an astute tactician. Crucially, he made light of some initial looseness among Northampton's forwards as the platform for victory was laid.

Irish bolted from the traps with a try after two minutes by Conor O'Shea, who was alert to his wing Nmandi Ezulike's kick ahead while the home defence cat-napped. Jarrod Cunningham converted, all before Ireland's coach Warren Gatland had taken his seat just behind Mr Major in the committee box. Gatland would have been keeping half an eye on O'Shea, who has missed seven Tests for Ireland since being dropped after the 50-point drubbing by England, and the full-back was engaged more in defence rather than attack, save for one occasion when he went over the Northampton line again only to be pulled back for a forward pass.

Two routine penalty goals by Grayson's standards brought the Saints back to within a point before Cunningham put over a penalty for a 10-6 lead. Northampton began by ignoring their recent recruit from France, Olivier Brouzet, and using Tim Rodber instead at almost every line-out. The England man's strength was good for a couple of metres over the gainline at the set piece, but then Northampton became too lateral and dropped too many balls. So it was mild relief that their captain Pat Lam accepted three easy points from Grayson with the last kick of the first half.

The inner sense that you have the measure of your opponents must have been with Northampton at the interval. London Irish's Fijian centre Tabai Matson was far less of a threat in open play than in his winning debut against Harlequins last week, and in the second half, albeit aided by a sin-binning for the Irish flanker Kieron Dawson, Northampton were the only scorers.

O'Shea had been given a captain's warning to observe the offside line by referee Ed Morrison as Grayson popped over a fourth penalty, and Morrison's patience gave out when he dispatched Dawson after 54 minutes. The immediate punishment was another Grayson penalty and, before Dawson's return, Northampton had made the game safe with the first of two tries by Ben Cohen. The England wing, fit again after a bout of shin splints, was on the hand of a superb one-handed flick off the floor by Grayson after a burst of Northampton rucking stretched the Irish to breaking point.

Grayson's conversion made it 22-10 and Northampton, who lost at Newcastle last week and took a short while to adjust after a calf injury to loosehead prop Garry Pagel in the first half, found they were comfortably seeing time out towards the end. Cohen won the race to a chop to the left corner by the Italian international centre Luca Martin and although the last act of Grayson's afternoon was a missed conversion, it had been a performance of polish.

Northampton: M Tucker (J Bramhall, 62); C Moir, L Martin, M Allen, B Cohen; P Grayson, D Malone; G Pagel (M Stewart, 30), S Thompson (S Brotherstone, 52), M Scelzo, O Brouzet, T Rodber (R Hunter, 78), G Seely (J Phillips, 59), B Pountney, P Lam (capt).

London Irish: C O'Shea (capt); J Bishop, T Matson, J Wright, N Ezulike; J Cunningham, K Campbell (K Ellis, 52); M Worsley (N Hatley, h-t), R Kirke (D Alexopoulos, 76), M Worsley (R Hardwick, h-t), R Strudwick, S Williams (G Delaney, 72), E Halvey, K Dawson (D Danaher, 74), C Sheasby.

Referee: E Morrison (Bristol).

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