Saints rise above hype

Northampton 9 Bath 6
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The Independent Online
Nothing recedes like success. Bath, the champions and seemingly as richly talented as ever, went down to their third league defeat of the season, losing by the odd drop goal in an exchange of penalties. The Northampton crowd could only chorus their delight after a second half of dreadful suspense. But their day, and possibly England's, was spoilt by an injury to Tim Rodber which had to be treated with seven stitches in the left knee. There must be some doubt whether he will play against Italy in a fortnight's time.

It's all getting a bit embarrassing. Recently Bath launched their new corporate image - a harmless little logo which they circulated to the press on floppy disc and CD-Rom as "the hallmark of the club and a symbol of the modern open game". Oh, stow it, chaps.

Then only last week their centre Phil de Glanville was introduced as the new captain of England with the kind of fanfare that used to greet Miss World. Not his choice, of course, but another sign of the game over- selling itself in a still-sceptical market.

Beneath the hype, Bath are still trying to strike the super-confidence of last season, but still you would have expected them to dominate a club promoted only last season. Especially when Northampton, a side of equally fierce ambition but smaller manpower, had to play without three of their internationals - the centre Jonathan Bell and hooker Allen Clarke, both involved in the Irish squad session, and their other centre, Gregor Townsend, leading Scotland at Murrayfield. The mid-field is not an area where you would want to be under-manned against Bath.

Instead, all the early play took place at Bath's end of the field from which Paul Grayson, in the midst of generally scrappy and irritable exchanges, put the Saints comfortably ahead with a drop goal and two penalties, the second of them from close to the half-way line. Northampton had a slight advantage from the slope of the ground. But it was not enough to excuse the inability of de Glanville and Jeremy Guscott to plot a way through a midfield patrolled rigorously by Rodber and the Northampton back-row.

That threatened to change on the half-hour when Rodber was helped from the field, his legs held stiffly, just as Bath for the first time were storming the Northampton line. But whatever Rodber's short-term international prospects, the Saints survived the immediate crisis. With Jonathan Callard, who was playing at full-back for Bath only because Jason Robinson had gone down with food poisoning, missing two penalty kicks at goal, Northampton kept their nine points intact until the break.

Callard at last got some points on the board for Bath with a penalty five minutes into the second half, but although this put Bath back within a score of taking the lead, it did nothing to lift the level of play from its dreary defensiveness. You could understand Northampton kicking up the touchline or taking speculative drop shots at goal. But Bath had nothing to gain from playing negatively.

They did what they could, pushing the ball wide to the wings and trying to release their centres. But the heroic smothering defence of Northampton checked them until they conceded another kickable penalty to Callard, making it 9-3. Rugby was forgotten, and the only absorbing interest was Northampton's survival in the remaining six minutes. They made it, and the Saints went marching in triumphantly to the dressing-room supported by the full male voice chorus at Franklins Gardens.

Northampton: N Beale; I Hunter, R McNaughton, M Allen, H Thorneycroft; P Grayson, M Dawson; M Volland, T Beddow, M Hynes, J Chandler, J Phillips, S Tatupu, B Pountney, T Rodber (J Cassell, 30, capt)

Bath: J Callard; J Sleightholme, P de Glanville (capt), J Guscott, A Adebayo; M Catt, C Harrison; K Yates, G Dawe (N McCarthy, 7), J Mallett, M Haag, B Cusack, A Robinson, R Webster (N Thomas, 49), S Ojomoh.

Referee: E Morrison (RFU).

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