Steve Thompson showed his match sharpness, if not complete hardness, with two tries to help propel Northampton to their first Heineken Cup victory of the campaign.
The first of Thompson's tries secured a bonus point for Saints. His second, apart from completing a rout over Borders, suggested that the hooker, omitted for England's Test against New Zealand next weekend, will soon be back for his country, having recovered from a calf strain.
In the backs, Carlos Spencer marked his return to action with a virtuoso display that belied the fact he had been out of action for three weeks, one through suspension, two through injury. He was full of trickery and sleight of hand and showed clever footwork and near magical handling. In one moment he looked left, convincing the crowd as well as the Borders players, but instead tossed a perfectly placed pass back right, inside, to trigger an attack that made inroads into opposition territory.
Spencer also used his pace, and was ever prepared to take on the defenders and able to off-load in the tackle. This last quality was invaluable in such a physical encounter.
It was shortly after a particularly grisly grappling session between Saints' flanker Paul Tupai, a New Zealander of Samoan extraction, and the Borders hooker Ross Ford that the Scottish side suffered the first of two early blows. First, Opeta Palepoi, their Samoan lock, was carried off following lengthy treatment to a shoulder after he fell awkwardly at a line-out. Then the centre Ben MacDougall was sent to the sin-bin after a high tackle on Rhodri Davies.
Saints probed and pressed in their quest for a further score. They were already 10 points ahead at that point, Spencer having landed two penalties and converted his fellow New Zealander Mark Robinson's try. The Northampton scrum-half had been put through after good work by the flanker Darren Fox - captain for the day to celebrate his 100th senior appearance for the club - and Tupai, who provided the scoring pass from close range.
During that 10-minute spell when Borders were down to 14 men, Spencer produced another example of individual brilliance which almost provided a second try. The former All Black outside-half shaped to pass left, then used the outside of his right foot to chip the advancing defence. Davies was a whisker away from touching down, the ball just going dead.
It was pretty well Saints' last attack of the half, because the Reivers' fly-half, Steve Jones, burst clear and raced 50 metres upfield, showing a great turn of speed and good peripheral awareness to put the centre Nick De Luca away off his inside shoulder. The Saints defenders managed to regroup and prevent a try, but they conceded a penalty which Calum MacRae knocked over to close the half in positive fashion.
When the right wing Simon Danielli powered 60 metres upfield early in the second half for Borders' first try, which was subsequently converted by MacRae, the Scots really buzzed - for about five minutes. Then it all went belly up for Borders in a hectic, hellish half-dozen minutes.
First the prop Gavin Kerr was shown a yellow card for joining a breakdown from the side. That left the Borders pack unable to withstand a concerted Saints drive, leading to a penalty try.
A further penalty saw Northampton driving from the resulting line-out. It was another ferocious effort and it ended with Thompson collecting the bonus-point score. His second try, straight from a five-metre line-out, followed 10 minutes later.
Northampton: I Vass; S Lamont, R Davies (J Howard, 48), L Myring, B Cohen; C Spencer, M Robinson; T Smith (S Tonga'uiha, 75), S Thompson (D Hartley, 76), C Budgen, Damien Browne, D Gérard (M Lord, 74), P Tupai, Daniel Browne (M Easter, 80), D Fox (capt).
Borders: C MacRae; S Danielli, B MacDougall, N De Luca (G Law, 65), B Daniel; S Jones, C Cusiter (capt); G Kerr, R Ford (S Scott, 67), E Kalman (B Douglas, 46), O Palepoi (S Newlands, 28-59; 68; Kalman, 59-68), C Hamilton, J Dalziel, K Brown, S Gray (A Miller, 65).
Referee: C Berdos (France).Reuse content