Voyce hat-trick leaves Northampton in pieces

Wasps 39 Northampton 9

Northampton met the second best side in the country at the Causeway Stadium yesterday and took a beating best described as merciless, so they must be feeling really good about this weekend's outing against Leicester, who are so superior to their Premiership peers that the outcome of the regular season was set in reinforced concrete more than a month ago. Three points adrift at the foot of the table and contemplating a run-in difficult enough to make a parson swear, the Saints' prospects are grim indeed. Not to put too fine a point on it, they are a rabble.

Northampton met the second best side in the country at the Causeway Stadium yesterday and took a beating best described as merciless, so they must be feeling really good about this weekend's outing against Leicester, who are so superior to their Premiership peers that the outcome of the regular season was set in reinforced concrete more than a month ago. Three points adrift at the foot of the table and contemplating a run-in difficult enough to make a parson swear, the Saints' prospects are grim indeed. Not to put too fine a point on it, they are a rabble.

Apart from the usual committed effort from Matt Lord, who achieved more sitting in the sin-bin than the majority of his colleagues did on the pitch, the visitors had nothing going for them. Their most potent player, Bruce Reihana, made unforced errors by the gross; Andrew Blowers and Corne Krige, their international loose forwards from south of the equator, looked shot to pieces; their preferred half-backs, Johnny Howard and Shane Drahm, were substituted well before the interval. One way or another, Northampton were not a pretty sight.

Budge Pountney, confirmed as head coach earlier this month after a brief spell of caretakership, looked wearier during the after-match formalities than he ever did as an all-action flanker. "There was a honeymoon period, as there often is after a change of coach, but unfortunately, the games we won were all cup games," he said.

"It would have been a whole lot better had we strung together two or three victories in the Premiership, but it didn't work out that way. It won't get any easier for us now, and we'll have to dig much deeper than we did out there to take something from the fixtures coming up. I'm afraid we don't have much confidence."

Northampton do not have much of anything these days, despite their success in turning a profit. Wasps put three tries past them in 29 minutes, and did not have to do too much for any of them. The first, inevitably enough, was claimed by Matt Dawson, who left the Midlanders for the champions last summer.

"That was always in the script," groaned Pountney, having watched the scrum-half wrestle his way over from a couple of metres after Lawrence Dallaglio's tap-and-go penalty routine. Mark van Gisbergen put Tom Voyce in down the left after some decent line-out work from Martin Purdy, and Voyce scored again when Phil Greening intercepted a loose pass and made 40 metres of quality ground before delivering the scoring pass.

Cue the first substitutions. "In that situation, you have to change something," Pountney said, explaining his unusually early introduction of Billy Fulton, his new scrum-half recruit from All Black country, and Paul Grayson, who is not a new anything, having served time at the club for more than a decade.

Grayson managed a penalty before the interval and another at the start of the second half, but Northampton were still behind 22-9. When the slippery Van Gisbergen accepted a pass from Dallaglio to complete a long Wasps attack in the right corner on 52 minutes, the contest was over half an hour early.

Wasps, out of sorts since mid-January, may yet make a reasonable fist of defending their title, for there were fresh shoots of the old dynamism about them here. Tim Payne and Craig Dowd, fairly marmalised in the scrummage by Bath last month, swapped propping roles to good effect, while Greening contributed some inspirational touches in the loose. Johnny O'Connor looked handy too - certainly, the Ireland breakaway was too hot for the ailing Krige - and while he failed to go the distance, the Wasps management saw no reason why his ankle problem should not clear up in time for the Six Nations match with England in Dublin on Sunday.

"It will do Jonny good to miss some training, because he came back to us in pieces from his last stint with Ireland," said Warren Gatland, the Wasps coach. One player in bits is just about manageable. A team in bits, like Northampton, is a different story altogether.

Wasps: Tries Voyce 3, Van Gisbergen 2, Dawson. Conversions Van Gisbergen 3. Penalty Van Gisbergen. Northampton: Penalties Grayson 2, Drahm.

Wasps: M van Gisbergen; P Sackey, J Lewsey (R Hoadley, 61), A Erinle, T Voyce; A King (J Brooks, 54), M Dawson (P Richards 61); T Payne (C Dowd, 70), P Greening, C Dowd (W Green, 62), S Shaw (G Skivington, 61), M Purdy, J Worsley, L Dallaglio (capt), J O'Connor (T Rees, 54).

Northampton: B Reihana; P Diggin (J Rudd, 52), N Starling, M Stcherbina, B Cohen; S Drahm (P Grayson, 34), J Howard (B Fulton, 30); T Smith, S Thompson (capt), S Emms, M Lord, D Browne, D Fox, A Blowers, C Krige (R Beattie, 57; G Seely, 68).

Referee: D Rose (West Midlands).

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