Northampton 18 Leicester 5: Myler offers a glimpse of the sun

Saints' new recruit from Super League shows skills Premiership so badly need to set free
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Northampton bade farewell in midweek to their director of rugby, Budge Pountney, who is off with his wife to run a swimmers' beginners course called Waterbabies. This last dip into an EDF Energy Cup pool already decided in Leicester's favour underlined how much expert midwifery England's next rugby generation may need.

Nine nationalities were on view, with much more English representation in Leicester's line-up - including four backs aged 21 or under - than in Northampton's. The Saints' chairman, Keith Barwell, named his first-choice XV in his programme notes to highlight how many of them are out injured.Only six were England-qualified.

Before any Saints supporters who lapped up this local derby victory after heavy Premiership defeats in the past fortnight howls "xenophobia", it is the club's prerogative to recruit overseas. Barwell regards the season's 11 weeks of international windows as a pane in the neck, and he wants Pountney's replacement, who should be installed by January, to have a bulging players contacts book. Only "one or two" a year will come through from the academy run jointly with the RFU even though a recent recruit to that group, 22-year-old Stephen Myler, caught the eye yesterday with a man of the match display.

"The good thing is these guys want to play the way I see it, which is not straight up and down," said Northampton's head coach, Paul Grayson. It would have been an apt description of Leicester's approach, and it did not add much to the spectacular ball-carrying of the Samoan No 8, Henry Tuilagi, before he went off with a battered forearm. The biter bit, metaphorically speaking of course.

Have the academies established in 2001 under a world-class performance plan yet kicked in properly? Will they turn out youngsters with bright minds as well as big muscles? "We're on the lookout for a long-term replacement for Carlos [Spencer]," said Grayson in reference to Myler. "Those that fail will not be here next season," was Barwell's warning and it got a swift response with a try in 33 seconds by Matthieu Bourret, a France Under-21 wing not long arrived from Perpignan.

The Northampton backs ran hard and fast, fed from fly-half by Myler, who signed in September from Salford City Reds. His great uncle, Frank, was the last captain to win the Ashes in Australia - in rugby league, that is - and he is from a long line of 13-a-side stock. Myler's passing along the line was crisp and quick; so, too, the cross-kick after 58 minutes which Paul Diggin batted down for Chris Wyles to score Northampton's third try.

That made the score 18-0 with Saints having earlier completed a coruscating opening quarter with a penalty by Myler and a try from a line-out drive by the flanker, Sam Harding. There have been rumours of a New Zealand-England split in the Franklin's Gardens dressing room and Barwell said: "The odd punch is thrown in training but... the guys are too professional to let little spats influence their day-to-day work." Perhaps his next signing ought to be Leicester's other Tuilagi brother, Alex, who landed several right-handers on the Northampton full-back Vaughan Going in the 21st minute undetected by the referee and nearby touch judge who were busy ruling that Bourret had failed to ground the ball for a second try.

What would either club do to turn up another Jonny Wilkinson, after eight of the nine shots at goal were missed, or another Martin Johnson, Tigers' great former England captain? 'Johnno' has spent the week in Dubai, watching Sevens, but he would have appreciated the Leicester maul which brought the only other second-half score, a 64th-minute try for Luke Abraham.

Northampton: V Going; M Bourret (C Wyles, 45), S Mallon, R Kydd, P Diggin; S Myler, I Vass; S Tonga'uiha, D Richmond (D Hartley, 48), C Budgen (S Emms, 67), M Lord (capt), D Gérard, M Easter (B Lewitt, 59), Daniel Browne, S Harding.

Leicester: M Smith; O Dodge, T Youngs (D Hipkiss, 67), M Cornwell (capt), A Tuilagi; I Humphreys (J Murphy, 51), F Murphy (S Bemand, 53); M Holford (A Moreno, 54), G Hickie (J Buckland, 6), D Young, B Deacon, J Hamilton, J Crane (L Deacon, 73), H Tuilagi (B Pienaar, 34), L Abraham.

Referee: A Small (London).