Thompson pulls flanker on Llanelli

Llanelli Scarlets 20 Northampton 22
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The Independent Online

The Northampton captain and hooker, Steve Thompson, stole a march on Llanelli Scarlets and nipped in for a last-minute try that earned victory and greatly increased Saints' chances of a place in the knockout stages of the Heineken Cup.

When Gareth Bowen's ill-advised clearance kick missed touch, the ball quickly found its way to Thompson, who was covering the left wing some 35 metres out, having switched to flanker when Andrew Blowers hobbled off with the cramp in the 73rd minute.

Thompson, who spent his formative years in the back row before converting to hooker at senior level, reminded the delirious Saints' fans just how fast he can be. He thundered past the Scarlets' prop John Davies, and looked to be headed for the left-hand corner.

Then he heard a voice. It was the Saints' fly-half Paul Grayson shouting at him. "'Grays' yelled at me to go for the posts so that he could guarantee getting the conversion."

That prompted a step off his left foot which any of the great Welsh backs would have been proud of. It left the Scarlets' full-back, Garan Evans, open-mouthed in astonishment.

Thompson duly touched down under the posts and Grayson kept his promise. It sealed a victory which, for so much of the match had looked remote.

"It felt we were on the back foot for much of the game," Thompson admitted. "But there is a great belief in this squad. It may not have been pretty to watch, but real rugby people will have enjoyed the sight of lots of muddy blokes rolling around on top of each other."

It was certainly muddy. It was remarkable that each side had a player - Gavin Thomas in Llanelli's case - capable of staying on his feet long enough to get over the line for a try.

The Scarlets' opening shot at goal came as a result of the match's only ugly incident. The first four minutes had seen both sets of forwards trying to knock lumps out of each other, but the line was drawn when the Saints' prop Chris Budgen went dangerously close to the head of the Scarlets' captain, Simon Easterby, as he attempted to remove the Ireland flanker from a ruck.

Budgen was shown a yellow card, but Saints countered so well with 14 men that they slipped into the lead while their man was cooling his heels.

The Scarlets, though, had the better of the rest of the match until Thompson pulled a flanker on them to put Northampton into pole position to finish as one of the best second-placed sides.

Llanelli Scarlets: Try G Thomas; Penalties Bowen 5. Northampton: Try Thompson; Conversion Grayson; Penalties Grayson 5.

Llanelli Scarlets: G Evans; A Havili, M Phillips, S Finau, T Selley; G Bowen, D Peel; I Thomas, M Rees, J Davies, V Cooper, C Wyatt, S Easterby (capt), D Jones, G Thomas.

Northampton: B Reihana; J Rudd, B Cohen, M Stcherbina, W Human (M Tucker, 68); P Grayson, J Howard; C Budgen (B Sturgess, 60), S Thompson (capt), R Morris, G Seely (D Browne, h-t), M Lord, A Blowers (D Richmond, 73), M Soden (B Sturgess, 13-17), C Krige (D Fox, 40+3).

Referee: E Darrière (France).