Reihana brightens the day as Saints grind on
Northampton 18 - Leeds 9
Sunday 02 January 2005
The Premiership season is often characterised as a marathon. If so, Saints are the New York version of Paula Radcliffe; Leeds the one who suffered in Athens. Inspired by their captain, Steve Thompson, the upwardly mobile Saints secured their second successive league win to leapfrog their opponents and Harlequins in the table.
The Leicesters of this world swagger from set-piece to set-piece. These two sides' shared plight was evident in a harum-scarum approach, with quickly taken free-kicks and penalties the norm. "Pretty ugly," was the description afterwards by Northampton's head coach, Budge Pountney, and it could have applied variously to the patterns of play, the occasional punch-up or even the flattened facial features of Andrew Blowers, scorer of the first of Saints' two tries. Ugly can be beautiful, and Pountney has presided over four wins out of six in all competitions since taking over from Alan Solomons.
Leeds had attracted more than 14,000 spectators to Headingley for their narrow defeat by Newcastle last Monday but, in their fourth season in the top flight, must be fearful of losing their status just as they appear to have found a crowd. The Tykes' scrum was cleverly depowered by a Northampton outfit who often engaged crookedly without sanction.
And Thompson, whose line-out throwing tends to mirror his wild hair-do, came out on top from his private battle with Mark Regan, who quit the international scene when the Northampton hooker was selected by England ahead of him in the autumn.
Saints also showed restraint when necessary, none more so than the man who started the season as Saints' captain, Corne Krige, near the end of the first half. Something upset the Leeds flanker Richard Parks on the side of a scrum, and he landed a series of right-hand jabs into Krige's face. The South African responded with no more than a mocking grin, which helped spare the former Pontypridd man what seemed an obvious yellow or red card.
Leeds's problems began early. With the benefit of a stiff breeze behind them in the first half, they managed no more than a pair of penalties by Gordon Ross after 11 and 21 minutes. Northampton, by contrast, found a cutting edge when it was most timely.
In the 19th minute, Saints' full-back Bruce Reihana spilled possession and, in the act of retrieving it, appeared to hold back a Leeds opponent. Play went on, though, and Northampton forced their way towards the left corner where Blowers, faced with two wings and two props, took a deep breath, threw a lavish sidestep and plunged over.
Shane Drahm was preferred at fly-half to Paul Grayson - by Grayson, indeed, seeing as he is Pountney's assistant - and pierced Leeds' porous back row from a line-out to send Ben Cohen on an unstoppable charge to Saints' second try. Cohen is expected to be one of the "big contract renewals" heralded yesterday in the operations director John Steele's programme notes.
Drahm had missed a penalty before Ross's first success, and was later off target twice more. But, on the hour, Leeds gave the Australian another chance when Gavin Kerr dived into the side of a ruck, and he opened up a nine-point lead. The value of this breathing space was soon demonstrated when Ross curved a penalty inside the left-hand post with 68 minutes gone. Now leading 15-9, Northampton found in the ever-watchable Reihana a man capable of both authoring his own misfortune and turning the same situation into a best seller. The New Zealander got out of a muddle with Wylie Human in his own 22 by stepping inside Matt Cardey and thrusting play to the other end with a storming break and well-judged punt. Tim Stimpson was forced into conceding a penalty for not releasing and Drahm made it 18-9.
A more resolute or capable side might yet have earned a bonus point. That it was not Leeds's afternoon was shown in added time when Cardey was unable to do justice to a neat Ross grubber in behind the Northampton cover. Surely, the first person through the Northampton turnstiles yesterday was Lady Luck.
Northampton: B Reihana; J Rudd (N Starling, 63), B Cohen, M Stcherbina, W Human; S Drahm, J Howard (B Jones, 80); S Emms, S Thompson (capt; D Richmond, 63), C Budgen (B Sturgess, 10-23, 66), G Seely, M Lord (D Browne, 57), A Blowers, R Beattie, C Krige (D Fox, 51).
Leeds Tykes: T Stimpson; M Cardey, C Bell, A Snyman (D Rees, 72), P Christophers; G Ross, M McMillan; M Shelley, M Regan, R Gerber (G Kerr, 40), S Morgan (C Murphy, 63), T Palmer (capt), D Hyde, C Rigney, R Parks.
Referee: S Leyshon (Gloucestershire).
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