Ryan furious at Pountney's card games

Gloucester 28 Northampton 24
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The Independent Online

A blinkered policy? Bring it on. A piece of work by Carlos Spencer which resulted in a try for Steve Thompson was alone worth the admission money, although not if you were standing in the Shed.

This match, though, contained a lot more than a touch of the old All Black magic from King Carlos. In an extraordinary climax, the referee David Pearson, who has been promoted to the international panel, also produced some sleight of hand, delivering cards in the manner of a casino worker. Leading 21-13, Northampton were hit by a blizzard of yellow cards. The first to go was the hooker Dylan Hartley and he was followed to the sin bin by Tom Smith, Dan Richmond and, later on, Thompson.

The upshot was uncontested scrums, which upset Dean Ryan, the Gloucester coach. Ryan thought that in Chris Budgen (a prop), the replacement Brett Sturgess (also a prop) and Thompson (who had not at that point been yellow carded), Northampton had a genuine front row and should therefore still have contested the scrums.

However, Budge Pountney, the Saints Thompson, the England hooker, had a sore neck, which is why he started at wing forward with Hartley hooking. Ryan was not amused. "I wasn't aware he was taking it easy," he said. Ryan also made a wider point. "A few years ago we never had uncontested scrums, but now we see them far too often. It's something the game should look at."

The first card had been issued not to a Saint but to the Gloucester full-back Rob Thirlby for deliberate offside and the yellow mist that descended in the second half was as a result of Northampton desperately trying to prevent the Cherry and Whites from scoring a try through their party piece, the rolling maul.

Gloucester set up camp close to the Northampton line and were prevented from grinding over by the sin binners bringing down the maul or taking out the line-out jumper. For the most part Northampton were reduced to 13 men in the second half and ironically conceded a try at an uncontested scrum, when James Forrester fed Jake Boer.

Thompson had not looked under par when he gave his side the lead after 13 minutes. After the Frenchman Ludovic Mercier had missed touch, his opposite number Spencer showed great vision in chipping into space, regathering possession and finding the unmarked Thompson on the inside. The way he took the try was a pain in the neck for Gloucester, who would have fallen further behind but for a great tackle by Mark Foster on Sean Lamont.

Instead Peter Richards, taking a swift tap penalty, went through a Northampton defence that parted like the Red Sea. Everybody thought everybody else was going to tackle the scrum-half but Richards, a sevens specialist whose barnet makes him look a bit like Goldilocks, walked away with the porridge.

When Darren Fox put a late shoulder into Mercier the stand-off landed the penalty, which meant that while the home side were down to 14 in Thirlby's absence they scored 10 points without reply. Gloucester were feeling pretty pleased with themselves when they conceded two tries just before half-time. Mercier, under pressure, made no attempt to catch a pass from Richards, instead flicking it on to Henry Paul who, under similar pressure, did precisely the same thing, only this time the ball was picked up by Jon Clarke and the centre was away. While Hartley was in the bin for fighting, Northampton increased their lead, Spencer turning defence into attack with an interception which ultimately led to try from the lock Damien Browne.

Northampton's eight-point lead was undermined by Boer's try and mercifully the winning score did not come from a scrum, uncontested or not, or the tedious rolling maul which has obstruction written all over it. No, it came as a result of an interception, a pass from Northampton's Bruce Reihana being taken by James Simpson-Daniel.

This was the wing's first game of the season after recovering from an ankle injury, although he has been kept busy. He is the new president of the 16-24 group at Cheltenham Racecourse, replacing Zara Phillips in the role. Anyway, Simpson-Daniel galloped over from 40 yards: three tries apiece, five yellow cards and Gloucester, undefeated, at the top of the Premiership.

Gloucester: R Thirlby (J Goodridge, 75; J Simpson-Daniel, M Tindall (capt), H Paul, M Foster; L Mercier, P Richards (H Thomas, 50); P Collazo (T Sigley, 72), O Azam (M Davies, 75), G Powell, A Eustace, A Brown, P Buxton, J Forrester, J Boer (A Hazell 75).

Northampton: B Reihana (capt); S Lamont, J Clarke, D Quinlan, B Cohen; C Spencer, M Robinson; T Smith, D Hartley (M Easter, 47; B Sturgess 58; M Soden 70), C Budgen, M Lord (S Boome, 56), D Browne, S Thompson, M Easter (D Richmond, 40), D Fox.

Referee: D Pearson (Northumberland).

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