Stephen Myler scored 18 points yesterday to arrest Northampton's slide after six straight defeats and re-start Leeds's slip towards the Championship after their victory over London Irish last week.
At Headingley, Northampton won the only Aviva Premiership match of the day 23-13, Myler and Paul Diggin scoring tries for the Saints and Danny Paul scoring one for Leeds, who are seven points adrift of Newcastle at the bottom of the table. Northampton are back up to fourth, although they have played a game more than Bath, who are fifth.
Johnno, you must be choking
With England widely expected to go to Ireland on Saturday needing a win for the Grand Slam, many a hectare of newsprint will be devoted to the last-match defeats by Wales, Scotland and Ireland in 1999, 2000 and 2001 respectively. But Martin Johnson, who played all but one of the seven seasons England went without the Slam between 1995 and 2003, will tell you that his side finished just a single win short in each of them. From 1996 to 1998 they lost only to France and the same happened in 2002. Fantastically successful and consistent or serial chokers? You decide. But when Johnno is asked about his great successes, he is always quick to say "we lost a few too, you know".
'Swing' when you're winning
No doubt the England supporters at the Aviva Stadium will strike up "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" at some point. It is generally held that the song became popular during the Twickenham match of 1988 when Ireland led 3-0 at half-time but were overwhelmed by 35 second-half points including three tries from England's Nigerian-descended wing Chris Oti. A group of friends from the Douai school say they began the singing and among them was a London Irish player, Neil Murphy – and he was chided afterwards for his part in Ireland's downfall by his club-mate Hugo MacNeill, who was Ireland's full-back. "The singing caught on and the whole crowd joined in," MacNeill recalls. "When the sound hit us we started to crumble and England grew in stature and never looked back." Sadly Murphy is suffering the after-effects of a brain haemorrhage and MacNeill is supporting a fundraising England v Ireland Legends match for his old club-mate at London Irish's Sunbury ground on Saturday 9 April. The players will include past internationals John O'Driscoll, Mike Gibson and Rob Henderson.
Ponty on a point of principality
Stretching a point maybe, but Newport Gwent Dragons are not the only Welsh side through to a cup semi-final this season, as claimed in some quarters. The Dragons travel to meet their nearest English neighbours Gloucester in the LV Cup semi-finals this afternoon to decide who meets Newcastle in next Sunday's final at Northampton. Meanwhile, Pontypridd are flying the Welsh flag in the eccentric and eclectic British & Irish Cup, which has given us ties such as Birmingham & Solihull v Ayr and Esher v Munster A this season. In the last-four matches on the weekend of 22-24 April, Ponty host Bristol with the winners at home to Bedford or Worcester in the May final.