Solomons quick to don the halo

Northampton 29 - Bath 14
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The Independent Online

Alan Solomons, the Cape Town lawyer whose brief is to turn Northampton from a successful club off the pitch into a successful one on it, got his coaching career here off to a dreamlike start. He had better not think it will be like this all the time.

Alan Solomons, the Cape Town lawyer whose brief is to turn Northampton from a successful club off the pitch into a successful one on it, got his coaching career here off to a dreamlike start. He had better not think it will be like this all the time.

Bath could do almost no wrong in nine months of rugby last season. Yesterday, in 80 minutes, they could do nothing right, at least not when it really mattered.

Saints, embarking on the club's 125th season, may as well have been wearing halos. The Bath 22 was alien territory to them, yet they scored four marvellous tries, one of them potentially the touchdown of the season. Franklin's Gardens looked like a crown bowling green in a heatwave and the crowd of 12,000 were treated to a master class of counter-punching.

For long periods, the Northampton pack, led by the former South African captain Corne Krige, found the Bath eight a real handful. A by-product was a huge penalty count in Bath's favour, but the West Country club managed to disprove the theory that possession is nine tenths of the law. Four tries for Northampton? All of them the result of Bath turning over possession, but nevertheless the chances were brilliantly taken.

The score was 3-3 after 30 minutes when Steve Borthwick, the England lock, lost the ball inside the Northampton half. Mark Robinson, the excellent New Zealander whose play last season virtually made Matt Dawson surplus to requirements, took advantage of the fact that his opposite number Martyn Wood was otherwise engaged and set off on a clever run. He committed the defence and his pass to Wylie Human on the left wing was almost perfect. In the Human race, there was only one winner.

Although Chris Malone landed a second penalty to make it 8-6, it was the closest Bath got. Two minutes before half-time, they were hit by another devastating counter-attack. Bath were looking good after a break by Brendon Daniel, but then Matt Perry's pass to Spencer Davey went to ground, and John Rudd powered 60 yards down the right touchline for a startling try which Paul Grayson converted. Human has signed from Bath, Rudd from Wasps, and both drew thunderous applause on their debuts.

After Malone had made it 15-9 with his third penalty, Bath, responsible for producing more turnovers than Mr Kipling, once again lost possession in an attacking position, and this time they were punished by Ben Cohen.

Because of the 11 week off-season imposed by the Elite Player programme, Cohen was reduced to playing only a half, but with his first touch of the ball the England wing created mayhem down the left flank, and his smart offload to Mark Tucker enabled the centre to cut inside to touch down at the posts.

The fourth try, which earned Northampton a bonus point, was even more breathtaking. The Bath forwards were swarming close to the Northampton line, and a try from a driving maul seemed likely. Instead, Northampton smuggled the ball, and although they appeared prepared for a kick to touch from behind their own posts, once they moved it left, they realised they had men over, and ran with it.

After a series of penetrative running and impressive passing, the result was a fantastic try for the full-back Bruce Reihana. For the Saints, it was a try made in heaven, and Franklin's Gardens rose to them. A note of caution about Reihana. He is a very strong runner, but he cannot kick to touch to save his life.

A truer reflection of the state of the game was provided by the Bath flanker Andy Beattie, who smashed over from close quarters in the 79th minute.

An indication of the inflammatory nature of the contest is that, after a couple of minutes, Krige late tackled Robbie Fleck, and the latter reacted violently. They might have sworn at each other in Afrikaans, for they were team-mates in the Springboks side against England 21 months ago that attempted to turn Twickenham into a killing field.

Krige was spoken to on several occasions by the referee, not for offences he had committed, but for the sins of his team-mates. The Saint who was the biggest sinner was England hooker Steve Thompson. From the word go, he behaved as if he had a nest of wasps under his shorts. Thompson began the first half by fighting with the Bath prop David Barnes, and began the second by trying to suffocate Wood.

"The spirit was terrific, and they played for each other,'' Solomons said. "I knew we wouldn't have a problem with everybody gelling.''

Northampton: B Reihana; J Rudd, M Tucker, M Stcherbina, W Human (B Cohen, 40); P Grayson (S Drahm, 54), M Robinson (J Howard, 78); T Smith, S Thompson, R Kempson (R Morris, 65), S Boome, D Browne (M Lord, 46), A Blowers, G Seely (D Fox, 54), C Krige (capt).

Bath: M Perry (J Maddock, 69); A Crockett, R Fleck, S Davey, B Daniel; C Malone, M Wood (N Walshe, 75); D Barnes (M Stevens, 31), J Humphreys (capt, L Mears, 50), D Bell, S Borthwick (R Fidler, 40), D Grewcock, A Beattie, I Feaunati (G Delve, 69), M Lipman (J Scaysbrook, 71).

Referee: C White (Somerset).

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