Saints fired up by Barwell's RFU broadside

Northampton 32 N-G Dragons 7
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The Independent Online

Had the contest lived up to Barwell's tone-setting explosions in the match programme and the local evening paper, both of which recorded his barely repeatable impressions of the recent behaviour of the Rugby Football Union, the 10,000-plus crowd would have witnessed enough mayhem to last them several lifetimes. As it was, the game was over in the time it took Carlos Spencer to make mincemeat of the hapless Dragons full-back Sione Tuipulotu and sundry colleagues with a series of precision "bombs" launched from his right boot.

The first, propelled high into a windswept Midlands sky, was fumbled by Tuipulotu and resulted in an easy three points for Bruce Reihana. The second put Gareth Wyatt in trouble and Sean Lamont claimed a try in the right corner. Sure enough, Spencer banged up another one; sure enough, it bisected the advancing Wyatt and the retreating Michael Owen and gave the Saints the attacking platform. The fourth, late in the first half and propelled off the outside of a right peg so educated that it has the letters "PhD" tattooed on the instep, again embarrassed Tuipulotu, and Reihana kicked another penalty.

By the midway point of the half, Tuipulotu's shirt had been shorn of both name and number - an act widely assumed to have been one of deliberate vandalism in pursuit of much-needed anonymity. The Tongan was substituted at the interval, presumably in an effort to spare him further embarrassment, but when Reihana fielded Kevin Morgan's head as well as a high ball a few minutes into the second period, the poor sap was dragged back onto the field for another spell of purgatory. It was not his night, to say the very least.

If Tuipulotu could not have caught a cold on the first of this season's ventures across the Severn Bridge, the gloriously outspoken Barwell certainly caught the eye. The chairman has long taken pleasure in telling the great and good of Twickenham where to get off - he was, many moons ago, the first club owner to threaten to withhold his players from England duty - and at the weekend, he succumbed to the temptation to wade into the ongoing rumpus over national release days and central contracts.

"Such contracts are unacceptable," he was quoted as saying. "It's time to front up, and we are going to front up. All the clubs have an agreement that any players signing a central contract will not be employed by any of the Premiership teams. We wouldn't sack them because we wouldn't have to. We would simply say: 'Well done lad, good luck, but you're not going to play for us.' We need a punch-up - it's got to that stage.

"The Premiership players get paid £30m, with the clubs paying £28m and the RFU £2m. The union contribute less than 10 per cent of the wages, but want the players for 50 per cent of the time. We collected £2.2m in season-ticket money at the start of the campaign, and people want to see our stars playing."

All of which managed to sound both perfectly reasonable and spectacularly undiplomatic, and if Barwell required yet more wind in his sails, it was provided by the sight of his team sticking it to a Welsh region luxuriating in the kind of bed-sharing relationship with the national union that England's clubs find unimaginable. The following point will not have escaped his notice, either. The Welsh hierarchy have been extolling the virtues of greater central control since winning the Grand Slam last season, yet at the first opportunity they turned their backs on their Celtic cousins and slipped between the sheets with rugby's Great Satan: the professional clubs. The integrity of the knocking shop? You decide.

Not that this concerned the Dragons coach, Paul Turner, as he watched his forwards taken to pieces by the Selborne Boome, Darren Fox and Sam Harding, all of whom tackled in time-honoured ton-of-bricks fashion. Northampton were 18 points up and out of sight by the time Mark Robinson, quite brilliant at scrum-half, scooted away down the blind-side of a scrum, burned off two defenders and then side-stepped his way past Morgan for the try of the game. Reihana, his fellow New Zealander, also claimed an extravagant score after some quick thinking from Ben Cohen and a midfield surge from David Quinlan.

"That," groaned Turner, "was a huge reality check after the victory over Leicester in the first round. We weren't even second best in the collision areas."

He added, rather darkly: "I learned a lot about some of my players out there." This week's training at Rodney Parade should be a real barrel of laughs.

Northampton: Tries Lamont, Clarke, Robinson, Reihana; Conversions Reihana 3; Penalties Reihana 2. Newport Gwent Dragons: Try Wyatt; Conversion Warlow.

Northampton: B Reihana (capt); S Lamont, J Clarke, D Quinlan, B Cohen (S Mallon, 80); C Spencer (R Davies, 80), M Robinson (J Howard, 71); T Smith, D Richmond (D Hartley, 80), C Budgen (B Sturgess, 71), S Boome, D Browne, S Thompson (S Harding, 55), D Fox, M Soden (D Gérard, 48).

Newport Gwent 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, 71), R Thomas (A Black, 71), L Charteris, P Sidoli (I Gough, 48), R Bryan, J Ringer (J Forster, 48), M Owen (capt).

Referee: A Spreadbury (Somerset).