Saints' late sparkle puts play-offs in sight

Leeds 15 Northampton 31

There is still plenty to play for as the Premiership pounds to its dramatic and punishing close, and Northampton boosted their chances of making the play-offs with a terrific second-half performance against Leeds at Headingley yesterday, which earned them only their sixth bonus point of the season.

There is still plenty to play for as the Premiership pounds to its dramatic and punishing close, and Northampton boosted their chances of making the play-offs with a terrific second-half performance against Leeds at Headingley yesterday, which earned them only their sixth bonus point of the season.

Victory came at a price, but Saints have now overtaken Gloucester to retake third place and, if they beat Harlequins at Franklins Gardens on Saturday, there remains the prospect of a Twickenham final before their coach, Wayne Smith, returns to his native New Zealand at the end of the campaign.

Before then, Smith hopes to have Matt Dawson fit, though the chances of Bruce Reihana being available look bleak after the Kiwi suffered a rib injury in the 16th minute. Reihana had sparked the best of Northampton's attacking initiatives, and once he departed Saints lost some of their shape though none of their intent. They were sharper and more inventive and it was only some stalwart defensive work by the Tykes which kept them in check during an eventful first half.

Leeds began in earnest though, Tristan Davies making a break for Matt Cardey to take it on, but the full-back ignored the unmarked Phil Christophers to his left, and that cost the Tykes the opening try. Within three minutes, the home side were not so careless as Alan Dickens intercepted Nick Beal's loose pass and outran the Saints winger from 50 metres for a try.

Northampton were forced in to action to correct their carelessness, but John Leslie was taken out by Davies, who was rightly yellow-carded, though referee Steve Lander should have allowed advantage, especially as John Clarke crossed under the posts.

Prolonged pressure by the Saints forwards was rewarded by a try for Darren Fox, though not until Gordon Ross hit his only penalty did Leeds regain the lead, to turn round 10-8 ahead. From there it was mostly downhill for the Tykes, who were eventually outclassed by Northampton.

Leeds brought on David Docherty, who at 17 years and 95 days became the youngest player to appear in the Premiership, and David Rees bagged a late try, but Saints were in almost complete control as one score from Beal and two from Ben Cohen made it safe for Saints.

Leeds: Tries Dickens, Rees; Conversion Ross; Penalty Ross.

Northampton: Tries Fox, Beal, Cohen 2; Conversion Drahm; Penalties Grayson, Drahm 2.

Leeds: M Cardey; D Rees, P Christophers (D Hodge 48), T Davies, D Scarbrough (D Doherty, 68); G Ross, A Dickens; G Kerr, R Rawlinson (M Regan, h-t), M Holt (M Cusack, 26), P Murphy, T Palmer (capt), C Rigney, A Persico (D Hyde, h-t), A Popham.

Northampton: B Reihana (A Vilk, 15); N Beal, B Cohen, J Leslie (capt), J Clarke; P Grayson (S Drahm, 37), M Robinson (J Howard, 79); T Smith, S Thompson (D Richmond, 74), T Taumoepeau (R Morris, 45-74; Taumoepeau, 74-78), M Lord (J Phillips, 75), M Connors, A Blowers, D Fox, G Seely (M Soden, 74).

Referee: S Lander (Warrington).

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