kevin ferrie


northampton 30

glasgow 9

AS driving rain swept across the English Midlands yesterday afternoon, Glasgow's chances of reaching the knockout stages of the Heineken European Cup were all but blown away by a storming second half performance from Northampton at Franklin's Gardens yesterday.

Having earned the right to be ahead as they began the second half with the elements at their backs, the visitors endured a miserable 40 minutes as their hosts recaptured at least some of the form that saw them win this trophy two seasons ago.

While Scottish coaches persist in saying they are as keen to play in good conditions as any other side, a team from Glasgow should surely be able to cope with conditions better than this as they frequently slithered around embarrassingly in defence, and dealt with what ball they did get as if it were the proverbial chunk of carbolic.

In fairness, though, both camps rightly credited much of that to the way Saints pinned them back.

''It is a truism that if you control the ball, you control territory and so control the game,'' said Richie Dixon, Glasgow's coach. ''In the first half we didn't capitalise on the opportunities we had, and in the second when we had the ball, we had difficulty holding onto it.

''We didn't stand up and react as well as we have in the past.''

That was certainly true after John Steele, his opposite number, sent his side out in the second half with instructions to up the tempo.

''We lacked a bit of urgency and were not getting any decent possession, but we stepped it up in the second half and played some sensible stuff in the circumstances.'' he said.

''Any type of game is difficult when it is like that and you tend to want to keep it close to the forwards, but we also scored some tries out wide and that was very satisfying because your skills have to be very good in these conditions.''

The ability to be more selective about when to put the wide was a significant difference after what had been a fairly drab first half in which Glasgow seemed to be gradually gaining the upper hand.

A Tommy Hayes drop goal separated the sides at the interval, after he and Matt Dawson had sent over a penalty apiece.

A massive drive by the Northampton pack shortly after the resumption was a declaration of intent. After Dawson darted for the line, Ben Cohen breenged his way forward and the ball was shifted wide.

Tom Smith did seem to knock on as he sought to score against his former team-mates, but when the referee waved play on as James Brooks, the replacement stand-off, gathered the loose ball just five metres out, the try was inevitable.

If that was a blunder by Marco Salera the Italian referee it was one of many, but neither side could complain much since they effectively benefited for a half each.

In the opening period the official was almost in danger of being lynched as the crowd's irritation grew, but he fully made up for it after the break as, like many before him, he simply favoured the team already on top.

Though it took Northampton until towards the end of the third quarter to add to their score, the writing was very much on the wall with a clear-cut scoring chance squandered by Brooks after Glenn Metcalfe completely missed the ball when attempting to field it on the retreat, the stand-off also missing a drop goal attempt, while Dawson pulled a kickable penalty wide.

Their half-backs' lack of ruthlessness merely drove their pack on however, and although Mark Tucker, their full-back, ultimately claimed the score it was Grant Seely's power as he ran a quick penalty when 30 metres out, and the way his fellow forwards got in behind, which blasted the hole in the Glasgow defence and created the second try.

Dawson and Hayes then exchanged penalties again, but the result was clear even before another forward surge allowed Dawson and Brooks to put Luca Martin in on the right.

Budge Pountney then came up with the ball as the entire Northampton pack drove over in the dying moments, but while he will be delighted with the way his own men responded to the challenge, since their campaign would certainly have ended had the score remained the same as at the interval, he may have some mixed emotions.

After all there were so many of the Scotland captain's international colleagues among the other side, he will be sure to stress at today's latest Murrayfield gathering, that they will have to be a lot more adaptable when confronted with problems in future.

Northampton Saints M Tucker; C Moir (L Martin 67 min), P Jorgensen, J Leslie, B Cohen; A Hepher (J Brooks 21), M Dawson (D Malone 80); T Smith (K Todd 75), S Thompson (S Brotherstone 75), M Stewart, J Phillips, R Hunter (A Newman 68), A Blowers (M Soden 80), B Pountney, G Seely

Glasgow G Metcalfe; J Steel, J McLaren, A Henderson, M Bartlett; T Hayes, A Nicol (G Beveridge 71); D Hilton (C Blades 59), G Bulloch, L Harrison (G McIlwham 59), N Ross, J White (A Hall 49), R Reid, G Flockhart, J Petrie Referee M Salera (Italy)

Scoring sequence (Northampton first): 0-3,0-6,3-6(half-time); 10-6,15-6,18-6,18-9,23-9,30-9

Scorers. Northampton. Tries Brooks (41), Tucker (57), Martin (72), Pountney (79) Cons Dawson (41,79) Pens Dawson (31,60). Glasgow. Drop goal Hayes (28); Pens Hayes (1,63).