McRae plays the puppet-master

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The Independent Online

Northampton 12 Gloucester 18

Northampton 12 Gloucester 18

The case for the defence could not have been presented more emphatically. For all their attacking verve - and Gloucester possessed imagination and pace out wide in the shape of Marcel Garvey and James Simpson-Daniel - it was their ability to keep out the Northampton marauders which won them the game.

Saints had scored 10 tries in their opening two matches, but even when Gloucester were reduced to 14 men for 10 minutes just after the hour, there was not a glimmer of a chance.

"We did a lot of our defensive training with reduced numbers," said Gloucester's defence specialist, Dave Ellis, who also helps the French national team in this aspect of their game, "because with fewer players on the pitch you have to defend in a different way, whereas with full numbers you can push up and know you are not going to get caught out."

One example was when Simpson-Daniel pulled off the tackle of the match, knocking John Rudd backwards fully 10 metres before dumping the 17-stone Saints wing on his backside and into touch.

In addition to the defence, Ellis estimating a Gloucester tackle count in the region of 100 to 110, there was also the direction given to the Cherry and Whites by Duncan McRae. The former New South Wales Waratah was more puppet-master than fly-half as he manipulated affairs with his kicking, which pulled the Saints' every which way and turned them repeatedly, thwarting their every attempt to gain a foothold in opposition territory.

And to make matters worse, Gloucester were happy to concede the line-out from McRae's kicks because the outstanding Alex Brown, in partnership with James Forrester, posed a pile of problems on the Saints' throw while collecting their own ball virtually untroubled.

Even the scrum, where the last minute loss of prop Gary Powell could have proved disastrous, saw the rookie Nick Wood and Terry Sigley proving equal to the task.

Without a guaranteed fundamental platform of possession, Saints had to rely on scavenging for the occasional Gloucester turnovers and over-ambitious passes, and whatever other scraps could be gleaned from the tight-fisted West Countrymen.

For their part Gloucester showed far more willingness to play a wide game, and one that involved forwards as well as backs. Their first try saw Sigley bursting through flimsy cover before slipping a scoring pass to the hooker Olivier Azam.

Their second try, which sent large numbers of the 12,093 crowd home before the final whistle, was courtesy of McRae's kick deep and to the right, well away from the ever dangerous Bruce Reihana. "I was just determined to keep the ball away from Bruce," said the Australian.

Ben Cohen and Steve Thompson's frantic efforts could not keep Garvey away from the ball though, and he slid over, with the ball - and the match - safely tucked away.

Northampton: Penalties Drahm 4. Gloucester: Tries Azam, Garvey; Conversion Paul; Penalty Paul; Drop Goal McRae.

Northampton: B Reihana; J Rudd, M Tucker, M Stcherbina, B Cohen; P Grayson, S Drahm, 13), J Howard; T Smith, S Thompson, R Kempson, S Boome, D Browne (M Lord, 59), A Blowers (D Fox, 59), G Seely, C Krige (capt).

Gloucester: J Goodridge; M Garvey, T Fanolua, H Paul, J Simpson-Daniel; D McRae, A Gomarsall; N Wood, O Azam (C Fortey, 54), T Sigley, P Buxton, A Brown, J Boer (capt), J Forrester, A Hazell (A Balding, 54).

Referee: S Lander (Cheshire)