Northampton breach Agen's stronghold

Agen 6 Northampton 19
Click to follow
The Independent Online

What a day to take a scalp and what a way to take it. Agen have not been beaten at home since Montferrand hammered them on 20 December 2001 and this was their 54th game since. But the 2000 winners of the European Cup played magnificently to set themselves up for a Pool 4 win against Llanelli at home next Sunday with a display that was tenacious in attack and rugged in defence.

From the outset the tone of the game was set. Wayne Smith, the Northampton coach, had clearly spent considerable time studying the video record of last week's game against Llanelli. With no first-half wind to help them, Agen found themselves on the back foot as they were harried and bundled into error after error.

The strategy was simple. If Northampton found themselves in their own half, they kicked the ball long to re-establish territorial comfort. Once further upfield, they played a pick-up-and-drive short game which not only rocked Agen's confidence but denied them any opportunity to establish a dominant pattern of their own. On the scoreboard, the reward was only two penalties for Paul Grayson in the first 33 minutes.

While Ben Cohen and Luc Laffargue were in the sin bin for an off-the-ball brawl, honours were even until Maher Kahla was finally made to pay for a string of offences.François Gelez did reply with a penalty before the end of a half marked by dropped passes and skewed kicks.

The hero of Agen's wind and rain-swept epic struggle against Llanelli last weekend, Jérôme Miquel, who notched up 17 points with four penalties, a conversion and drop goal, was one of only two backs on the bench, his place going to Gelez. Agen like forward power.

When losing at Northampton on 13 December, they had to do without their fiery loose head prop and captain, Jean-Jacques Crenca, for all but six minutes of the game. He received a red card for head-butting Steve Thompson, the England hooker.

How stupid, therefore, when just establishing match-winning superiority, for Darren Fox to visit the sin bin for a late tackle on Lafforgue.

Gelez had come out for the second half and immediately capitalised on a poor decision by Bruce Reihana to hang on on to the ball instead of clearing it. The kick from the 10-metre line evened the scores.

It was one of the few decisions with which the crowd agreed, and eight minutes later he awarded a kick-and-chase try to Bruce Reihana that was as close to the dead ball line as you want to see. Grayson, who had been rather too wedded to kicking rather than passing, converted. But his overtime penalty drove the stake decisively into the cold Gascony earth.

Agen: Penalties Gelez 2. Northampton: Try Reihana ; Conversion Grayson; Penalties Grayson 4.

Agen: P Elhorga; C Coro (rep J Miquel, 66), C Stoltz, L Lafforgue, S Bonetti; F Gelez, M Barrau (F Tandonnet, 76); J-J Crenca (capt; P Blanco, 78), P Piacentini (N Curnier, 53), O Hasan (N C Califano, 55), M Kahla, J-M Parent (E Bertrand, 50), M Lièvremont, P Benetton (O Sverzut, 62), S Socol.

Northampton: B Reihana; M Tucker, C Hyndman, J Leslie (capt), B Cohen; P Grayson, M Robinson (J Howard, 80); T Smith, S Thompson, R Morris (C Budgen, 69), M Lord, M Connors, A Blowers (J Phillips, 80), D Fox, G Seely.

Referee: A Lewis (Ireland).