Tucker drains Bath

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The Independent Online

On the day that Keith Barwell, the club's benefactor, announced that supporters would be invited to buy shares in Northampton, they put some spin on the prospectus with a thumping victory over the West Country thoroughbreds Bath.

On the day that Keith Barwell, the club's benefactor, announced that supporters would be invited to buy shares in Northampton, they put some spin on the prospectus with a thumping victory over the West Country thoroughbreds Bath.

It was a well-timed statement of intent after the European Champions had got off to a mediocre start to the season with three defeats from six matches. Northampton, who invariably complain about having the Premiership's worst casualty list, took Bath on up front and took them apart.

Rarely has a Bath pack been treated with such disdain. The effect spread through the team like a rash and their handling and passing disintegrated.

The contest, although scrappy and strewn with errors, was as hard as nails and both sides suffered casualties which forced fundamental changes. In the 20th minute, the Northampton stand-off Paul Grayson went off with a leg injury. Already suffering from an identity crisis at full-back, where Mark Tucker was called into action, the departure of Grayson brought on Ian Vass who moved to full-back with Tucker switching to stand-off. Bath suffered a similar re-shuffling at the start of the second half but Northampton were far less inconvenienced by the disruption.

The Saints established an early lead and a psychological ascendancy when they decided to run a penalty. The forwards, with Pat Lam as ever in the vanguard, took it on and when the ball was moved to the right Ben Cohen cut inside for the try, beating Ben Clarke in the process.

Jon Preston kicked a penalty for Bath and the absence of Grayson looked as if it could be costly for Northampton. The 20-year-old Tucker failed miserably with two penalty attempts but then announced his arrival by brushing aside an attempted tackle from Shaun Berne to cross near the posts and converted his try for a 14-3 lead.

The score had stemmed from the Saints' superior fire power up front. After Garry Pagel and his opposite number John Mallett had been warned for fighting, the Saints wheeled their opponents' scrum before suffering the same indignity. However, the next scrum, with Bath collapsing, produced a free kick to Northampton from which Tucker produced his try.

Preston landed a second penalty shortly before the interval during which Bath decided to omit the unfortunate Berne, move Matt Perry to stand-off with Rob Thirlby taking over at fullback. It was not the smartest of moves.

As the Northampton eight, prompted by the cox Dom Malone, went into overdrive, Bath's indiscipline came under close scrutiny. First, Gavin Thomas, on for Angus Gardiner, received a yellow card for kicking and Tucker slotted the penalty to put the Saints 17-6 to the good.

Five minutes later Mallett was sent to the sin bin for tugging at Jon Sleightholme's jersey. That reduced the weight of the Bath pack even further and from the penalty awarded for Mallett's foul, Northampton tapped and drove, leaving a trail of bodies in their slipstream and Budge Pountney over the line.

Tucker's conversion gave Northampton a 24-6 lead and the final quarter was interrupted by a series of further injuries. Sleightholme suffered a dislocated shoulder after being tackled by Dan Lyle, who also had to be replaced.

A degree of pride enabled Bath to respond with a try from Gavin Thomas and at the death they would have had another but Iain Balshaw was denied at the line by Vass.

Northampton, on the other hand, were celebrating not only what could be a return to their irresistible run of last season but also the opportunity to buy a stake in the Sainthood which is expected to be launched next month. Yesterday's attendance was 7,465 and the club intend a major redevelopment of Franklins Gardens, enlarging its capacity to 13,000. Part of the development will be paid for from the share issue which is anticipated to raise £2.5m.

The minimum value of shares which may be subscribed for is likely to be £250. "Our aim is to provide as wide a share ownership as possible with no one priced out," Allan Robson, the commercial director, said. "We really want all members to own a part of the club."

Northampton: M Tucker; J Sleightholme (J Bramhall, 70), L Martin (T Kirk, 77), A Bateman, B Cohen; P Grayson (Vass, 20), D Malone; G Pagel, S Brotherstone, M Stewart (M Scelzo, 70), J Phillips, O Brouzet (A Newman, 45), J Seely (R Hunter, 40), P Lam (capt), B Pountney (S Thompson, 79)

Bath: M Perry; I Balshaw, K Maggs, M Tindall, A Adebayo; S Berne (R Thirlby , 40), J Preston (G Cooper, 59); D Barnes, M Regan, J Mallett, M Haag, S Borthwick, A Gardiner (G Thomas, 20), D Lyle (N Thomas, 77), B Clarke (captain)

Referee: A Rowden (Berks)

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