Robinson sets pace for Saints

Northampton 32 N-G Dragons 7
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Northampton will deny the Welsh region that pleasure, and take top spot, if they avoid defeat at Leicester. And the lofty Welsh claims of domination at the breakdown which came out of this tournament's opening weekend were so much hot air here.

For the third match in succession Northampton fielded Steve Thompson at blindside flanker: a curious state of affairs for the man acknowledged by England's head coach Andy Robinson as the starting hooker for the forthcoming autumn Tests. Perhaps such multi-tasking is to be applauded. The sore neck which Northampton say is precluding Thompson from front row duty is, it must be assumed, getting neither much better nor much worse.

A swirling wind blew in the Dragons' faces in the first half and Carlos Spencer eschewed his more magical tendencies to hoist one garryowen after another. Uncomfortable it made the Dragons' life, too, and fumbles by their Tongan full-back Sione Tuipulotu led directly to penalties kicked for Saints by Bruce Reihana in the third and 29th minutes.

In between those scores Northampton fashioned two tries which hinted at a more cohesive and assertive back division than the one which stumbled through the Premiership last season. Of course they did not have Spencer at fly-half then; nor for most of the run-in his fellow Kiwi at scrum-half, Mark Robinson, who was suspended for stamping.

Mark Soden broke off the back of a forward-moving Northampton scrum to pave the way for the first try; the ball flashed from left to right for the Scotland wing Sean Lamont to score at the corner. Then Robinson attacked the short side of another scrum, flipped behind his back to the supporting Reihana, possession was recycled and Spencer slipped his inside centre Jon Clarke through.

It all added up to an 18-0 Northampton lead at half-time, although the Dragons were hard done by in added time when Hal Luscombe hacked has way from halfway, only to be baulked by Lamont at the crucial moment. Lamont went to the sin-bin and Spencer reflected during the interval on his misplaced pass which set up the counter-attack. The cost of the high tempo conducted by Spencer is the occasional duff note.

But there was nothing discordant about Robinson's extraordinary try four minutes into the second half. Again the visitors seemed blind to the threat at a scrum, and though Robinson had 50 metres to go he made it with a couple of steps off his right foot and a good recovery from a flying ankle tap by Kevin Morgan. Reihana added the conversion.

Morgan was just one of the Dragons' high-profile replacements but he was swiftly off the field again with a cut head. Gareth Cooper made his season's debut while Northampton's support had their first sight of David Gérard, the lock signed from Toulouse.

The Dragons had to wait until the end to work Gareth Wyatt over for a try converted by Craig Warlow. By then Northampton had secured a bonus point with Reihana's try and conversion.

Northampton: B Reihana (capt); S Lamont, J Clarke, D Quinlan, B Cohen (S Mallon, 80); C Spencer (R Davies, 80), M Robinson (J Howard, 72); T Smith, D Richmond (D Hartley, 80), C Budgen (B Sturgess, 72), S Boome, D Browne, S Thompson (S Harding, 45), M Soden (D Gérard, 49), D Fox.

Dragons: S Tuipulotu (K Morgan, 40-56); G Wyatt, H Luscombe, J Bryant (C Warlow, 40), B Breeze; C Sweeney, G Baber (G Cooper, 51); D Maddocks, A Brown (L Jones, 72), R Thomas (A Black, 72), L Charteris, P Sidoli (I Gough, 49), R Bryan, M Owen (capt), J Ringer (J Forster, 49) .

Referee: T Spreadbury.

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