Grayson the warm-up for Drahm drama

Northampton 23 - Toulouse 21
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The Independent Online

Keith Barwell, the Northampton chairman-owner, said he would scour the world to find a replacement for Alan Solomons, whose reign was short-lived following a disastrous run in the Premiership. So far the search has not gone further than Wellingborough, where Budge Pountney, a former stalwart here, has been doing a bit of part-time coaching.

Keith Barwell, the Northampton chairman-owner, said he would scour the world to find a replacement for Alan Solomons, whose reign was short-lived following a disastrous run in the Premiership. So far the search has not gone further than Wellingborough, where Budge Pountney, a former stalwart here, has been doing a bit of part-time coaching.

Pountney has formed a partnership with Paul Grayson, who can be described as a player-joint coach. "What good things we had were all swept away," Grayson said, explaining the abrupt departure not just of Solomons but his assistants too. Player power probably had a part in the extraordinary developments here, and the squad may be satisfied with the new arrangement, particularly after yesterday's dramatic victory put them a step closer to qualification for the knock-out stages of the Heineken Cup.

Pountney and Grayson, the bad cop and the good cop, succeeded in motivating the team that had fallen to bottom of the Premiership after failing to win a league match since 11 September.

However, Solomon did leave the Saints a legacy. In Pool Three of the Heineken Cup the club had won two from two, and yesterday that became three from three as Northampton moved to the top of their group with a thrilling victory by a try, five penalties and a drop goal to a goal, a try and three penalties. It owed a lot to a return to Northampton's old-fashioned virtues of wholehearted commitment. They deservedly overpowered a Toulouse side who had, on paper, a brilliant outfit but were as loose as they were fast, as careless as they were creative.

The French club, twice winners of Europe's Blue Riband, had regained the lead in the 70th minute with a try under the posts by Yannick Jauzion. The formality of Frédéric Michalak's conversion put Toulouse ahead at 21-20, but what happened next is the stuff of dreams for any coach, old or new.

Grayson, whose immaculate goal-kicking had severely punished Toulouse for every indiscretion, decided, presumably in agreement with his partner Pountney, who was in the stand, that 70 minutes for his ageing legs were quite enough. The move was inspired. No sooner did Grayson depart to thunderous applause than his replacement, Shane Drahm, dropped a goal. It turned out to be the kick that won the match.

Northampton and Toulouse were forced to exchange penalties for most of the first half, and it amounted to a shoot-out between Grayson and Michalak. And both were in excellent form. The Saints had a chance to land a real blow midway through the half when Ben Cohen, playing at centre, found himself on the right flank and inside the Toulouse 22. Totally unmarked outside him was the hooker Steve Thompson. It would have been a try for the scrapbook - an England wing playing in the centre delivering a pass to an England hooker who was appearing on the wing - but for the fact that Cohen delivered a shocker. Thompson, who in the upheavals here won a ballot by the players to succeed Corne Krige as captain, could do nothing with Cohen's pass other than to let the ball hit his shins.

Nevertheless it led to a little purple patch by Northampton. Trailing 9-6, they scored 11 points in as many minutes. Grayson kicked his third penalty and soon added his fourth when Omar Hasan was harshly shown a yellow card for pilfering possession (a head-high challenge on Nicholas Jeanjean off the ball was ignored by referee Alan Lewis), and from the offence Grayson landed the penalty to give Saints the lead. It was while Toulouse were down to 14 men and, with the loss of a prop, had to reshuffle their pack that Northampton scored their try. Benoit Baby dropped a simple ball, and from the resultant scrum Mark Robinson shot off to the blind side and had the pace and power to get over at the corner.

Baby soon made amends by sparking an attack from the halfway line that, thanks to quicksilver handling from Gareth Thomas, resulted in a spellbinding try by Florian Fritz.

Having established a 17-14 lead at the interval, Grayson increased it with his fifth penalty, but then Northampton's forwards had to endure a series of punishing drives, several of which ended with the red jerseys of Toulouse crashing over the Saints' line, but on each occasion the home side were given the benefit of the doubt. However, after a couple of sorties from a scrum, Jauzion broke through, setting up the magical introduction of Drahm and his winning touch. There was still time for John Rudd to lose his head and throw a haymaker at Cédric Heymans. In fact, Rudd's loss of control was such that in the process he nearly decked an official. A citing is possible.

Northampton: J Clarke; J Rudd, B Cohen, M Stcherbina, W Human; P Grayson (S Drahm, 70), M Robinson (J Howard, 77); C Budgen (R Morris, 70), S Thompson (capt), R Morris (B Sturgess, 55), M Lord, D Browne, A Blowers, M Soden, C Krige (G Seely, 70).

Toulouse: B Baby (V Clerc, 46); G Thomas, Y Jauzion, F Fritz (C Heymans, 64), N Jeanjean; J-F Dubois, F Michalak; P Collazo, Y Bru (capt; W Servat, 51), O Hasan, G Lamboley, D Gerard (F Pelous, 44), J Bouilhou, I Maka (V Lacombe, 76), C Labit (F Maka, 67).

Referee: A Lewis (Ireland).

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