Saints leave Leeds facing the drop
May 7, 2011
Saints rally to beat Leeds%]
Northampton left Leeds facing relegation from the Aviva Premiership by beating Neil Back's gutsy side 31-24 at Franklin's Gardens on Saturday.
Victory also sealed the Saints' place in the play-offs, where they will face table-topping Leicester, but they were forced to scrap back from 24-3 down after the Yorkshire side hit the ground running with tries to Hendre Fourie, Rhys Oakley and Pete Wackett in the opening quarter.
Leeds' only hope of survival now lies with Cornish Pirates upsetting the odds in the Championship play-off final against promotion-hopefuls Worcester, and should they drop out of the top flight there will be recurring nightmares of the beating handed out by Northampton at the scrum. The Saints secured a foothold in the game with a penalty try just before the break, with their pack's effort bookended by a score to Phil Dowson and a poacher's effort from Chris Ashton.
Leeds produced a start to savour and were a try to the good inside the opening five minutes. Scrum-half Scott Mathie outflanked the Saints' defence with an arching pass to the outside, which found Adrian Jarvis on a good angle. The pack took over as Mike MacDonald was halted just short, but after the American loose-head's charge, Fourie was on hand to swivel over for the try.
Jarvis converted and Mathie was quickly back in the thick of things to create the visitors' second with a snipe around the fringes. His dart put Northampton on the notice and a deft offload out of the back door sent Oakley charging in under the posts. Jarvis was again on target with the extras, and added a penalty after Shane Geraghty had put the Saints on the board with a close-range penalty.
Leeds' third arrived in a timely fashion, before the clock had hit 20 minutes, and came from a defensive lineout in their own 22. Poor execution from the hosts allowed Mathie to hack long and after a nightmare bounce had taken the ball away from Ben Foden, hooker Phil Nilsen, a late call-up for the injured Steve Thompson, broke clear.
His pass inside was intercepted but the chasing Leeds forwards swarmed all over Dowson to regain the ball, which was quickly shifted into space for Wackett to coast over in the corner. Both teams were reduced to 14 men on 26 minutes as Lee Blackett and Paul Diggin came to blows on the touchline, but it was the Saints who reacted better to the setback by bagging their first try. Foden was the architect by creating a one-on-one with a forward in midfield and quick hands allowed Dowson to exploit an overlap in the corner.
Northampton lock Christian Day carries the ball forward © Getty Images
Geraghty's conversion was ugly and well wide, but the Saints found another gear at the scrum to secure a penalty try before the break. A series of five-metre scrums saw Leeds backpedalling and tight-head Juan Gomez harshly sin-binned, but the hosts paid their opponents' plight little mind, turning the screw and leaving referee Andrew Small with few other options but to award the try. Geraghty's conversion made it 24-15 at the break.
Northampton were not shy in making changes at the interval, with Calum Clark injected into the back-row and Lee Dickson introduced in place of Stuart Commins at scrum-half, and were soon within two points after Geraghty took matters into his own hands deep in his own territory. The fly-half, who is on his way out of Franklin's Gardens, backed his pace when confronted by Michael Stephenson and beat the fullback on the outside, charging along the wing before feeding Ashton for a trademark swallow-dive finish.
Stephen Myler followed skipper Dylan Hartley off the bench and soon landed a penalty to give the Saints the lead for the first time, with the fly-half adding six more points with the boot before the end to underline his side's dominance of the second-half, where Leeds were bludgeoned at the scrum and penned into their own 22. Back's men rallied at the death in search of a fourth try to seal their safety, but the wall of green and black shirts halted them at every turn.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
The Scotland coach enters his first Six Nations with at least one familiar face to look to for inspiration - Joe Schmidt. He chats to Tom Hamilton
Italy coach Jacques Brunel spoke to ESPN ahead of his final season as Italy coach and tells of his desire to experiment and evolve
"There's no bull with me, I just tell it straight." Tom Hamilton talks to Warren Gatland in an exclusive interview
With the retirement of Adam Jones, Welsh rugby says goodbye to a great player and one of its biggest personalities too, writes Tom Hamilton