Saints ease past Blues

13 November 2008

After last week’s encouraging display against Crawshay’s Welsh XV, the Blues were looking to put in an equally solid performance against Premiership outfit Northampton Saints.

Despite only just returning to the top flight this season after suffering the ignominy of relegation in 2007, the Saints have made an impressive start to the new campaign; they await a semi-final against Cardiff in the EDF Energy Cup and top their Challenge Cup group, throughout which they remain unbeaten at home. Northampton seemed intent on continuing this good form, naming a strong line-up boasting a plethora of Premiership stars and most notably, the legendary All Black, Carlos Spencer.

As has become the norm in recent weeks, Cambridge got off to a sluggish start and allowed the Northampton backs to play a fluid, attacking game.

After a period of sustained pressure, Saints winger Grant Anderson touched down in the corner for the opening try which was duly converted by full-back and former London Irish star, Barry Everett.

Saints continued to put pressure on the Blues forwards, who were struggling to cope with the dynamism of their passing and movement around the backs while Saints’ forwards put in the effort at the rucks. An attempted chip-and-chase was superbly defended under the posts by Alan Daniel at loose-head. Another chip-and-chase from the Saints had to be touched down by the Blues and the resulting 5-metre scrum led to Northampton’s second try. The play was quickly spread out wide on the left for Saints’ other winger Neil Starling to cross over.

Saints were in the ascendancy and continued to dictate the pace of the game. However, it was Cambridge who scored next to register their first points. A crucial knock-on by Saints on the Cambridge twenty-two was pounced on by the Cambridge backs. The ball was fumbled by the covering Saints full-back and Chris Lewis was on hand to kick on and touch down. James Richards converted.

The Blues went in search of another try but the power of the Northampton forwards was proving too much for the Cambridge pack. Their try aside, the Blues saw little of the ball during the half; the opposition forwards causing all sorts of trouble in defence and gaining crucial territory through a number of penalties.

As they tried to hold off the Saints dominant forwards, the Blues pack collapsed the rolling maul and a penalty try was awarded, leaving the easiest of conversions for Everett.

Andy Daniel was sin-binned shortly before half-time and the resulting penalty led to a third Saints try from prop Soane Tonga’uiha. A subsequent penalty was criminally put wide and Saints entered the half-time interval with a healthy 24-7 lead.

With the Blues tiring due to Saints’ dominance, the second half saw regular changes to the Blues line-up. Despite the introduction of fresh legs, the inexperienced Cambridge side still struggled to gain a foothold in the game.

Despite having the best of the play, Saints struggled to make good use of their possession until the hour when a breath-taking 50 metre break by Carlos Spencer down the right culminated in the ball being spread out quickly to the left flank for the ever-menacing Nick Greenhalgh at outside centre to score his first try of the game; just rewards for his threatening runs in the first half.

Cambridge refused to lie down though, and hit back with a consolation try on 70 minutes; the ball being spread out wide following a 5-metre attacking scrum for Hughes Hall legend James Greenwood to cross the line. Not to be outdone, inside centre Mark Randy blocked an attempted Northampton clearance and touched down under the posts in emphatic camera-posing style; Scott MacLennan was on hand to convert both tries.

The comeback was not to prove a fairytale ending for the Blues as the game closed out 29-21 to Northampton.

The Blues can take great pride in their resurgence in the final quarter of an hour but in truth, Northampton were always in control and could have had the game beyond doubt in the first half had they been more ruthless with the ball in hand.