Insipid Saints hit new low

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The Independent Online

The inexorable decline in the domestic fortunes of the Northampton Saints continued yesterday as they fell to a 21-20 home defeat to London Irish, their seventh in a row in the Zurich Premiership.

The inexorable decline in the domestic fortunes of the Northampton Saints continued yesterday as they fell to a 21-20 home defeat to London Irish, their seventh in a row in the Zurich Premiership.

Irish's fly-half, Mark Maple-toft, scored all of his side's points to condemn Alan Solomons' expensive but ineffectual collection of South Africans, New Zealanders and, whisper it, the odd East Midlander, to a club-record sequence of defeats.

Mapletoft marked his 100th Premiership appearance, for his fourth club, with two tries, three penalties and a conversion. The haul took his points tally to 58 from his past three games, including the European Challenge Cup victory over the French club Auch, in which he has landed 17 out of his 19 kicks.

Northampton replied with five penalties from their own fly-half, Paul Grayson, and finally managed a try when the left-wing Wylie Human raced clear and dived over in the corner seven minutes into injury time. But Shane Drahm, who had replaced Grayson, narrowly missed the difficult conversion attempt. A further 10 minutes of added time, thanks to a worrying injury to the Saints centre Chris Hyndman, could not produce a winner for the home side.

Solomons was at least spared the trial by chairman dished out to another unfortunate coach on Friday night. The Saracens owner, Nigel Wray, left The Stoop just 27 minutes into his side's 40-10 loss to the previously hapless, clueless and completely winless Harlequins.

Saracens leaked their first try after 13 seconds, three more in the next 14 minutes and a total of six in a defeat that allowed Quins to climb off the bottom of the table at last.

Wray had to walk - or furiously stalk, perhaps - past the Saracens director of rugby, Rod Kafer, on his way out of the ground, and the Australian admitted afterwards it was a justified reaction.

"That is an action that I fully understand," he said. "When you are as committed and as devoted to a club as Nigel Wray is, you expect the people - management and players - to perform at a much better level than we did tonight."

The result was a relief for Harlequins' director of rugby, Mark Evans. "I think a win was coming," he said. "I think in the past five weeks we have played pretty well against some high-quality opposition and we have just come out on the wrong side of the ledger."

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