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The BBC's Ian Robertson
"Saints found it rather difficult"
 real 28k

Saturday, 8 April, 2000, 17:54 GMT 18:54 UK
Saints keep treble dream alive

A London Irish revival ensured a frenetic closing period
Northampton 24-17 London Irish

Northampton overcame a spirited challenge by London Irish in the semis of the Tetley Cup to earn their first trip to Twickenham since 1991.

It also keeps the Midlands side in with a chance of the treble - Cup, League and European Cup - in what has been an amazing season for the Saints.

A five minute burst in the first half that produced tries for Federico Mendez and the ubiquitious Budge Poutney was enough to see Northampton through, despite some appalling kicking by Paul Grayson.

Outstanding: Budge Poutney scores

A late try for Conor O'Shea failed to drag an error-prone Exiles side back into a match that they had to chase from the 18th minute onwards.

On a billiard-table surface in blazing sunshine, the two Premiership sides produced a less than-edifying display at the Madejski Stadium.

The match was a mess of poor decisions, silly mistakes and disjointed passages of play that made for frustrating viewing.

Nervous Northampton looked the better side from the outset and should have cancelled out Jarrod Cunningham's second-minute penalty after quarter-of-an-hour.

But stand-off Grayson's kicking radar was badly off and his attempt from 15 yards out and directly in front of the posts skewed wide.

Grayson makes good

Mendez made good minutes later with his sixth try of the Cup campaign.

Fullback Nick Beal came flying into the line on 18 minutes, bisecting the Irish defence before neatly shipping the ball out to centre Allan Bateman.

The big Welshman drew the Exiles' defence, then delivered a deft little one-handed pop pass to the Argentinian hooker who thundered over the line to score.

Grayson missed the conversion, although he immediately had a chance to make amends.

London Irish's O'Shea was stranded on the end of a poor pass in midfield and was turned by England winger Ben Cohen.

The outstanding Poutney came flying through the centre of the ruck, gathered the ball and scored close to the posts. His fly-half converted.

Mendez sin-binned

Cunningham and Grayson traded a pair of penalties as Northampton went into the interval 18-6 up.

The Saints stand-off missed another howler of a penalty attempt on 42 minutes, but persistent infringement by London Irish gave him another chance almost immediately, which he duly made good.

The two kickers again traded penalties, before Irish woke up to the countdown with quarter-of-an-hour to go and began to play some highly-focused rugby.

The Exiles suddenly began to throw the ball around and it would have paid dividends straight away, but for a superb tackle by Cohen who came off his line and snuffed out a certain scoring move.

Nonetheless, the London side refused to lie down and won a scrum deep inside the Northampton 22.

A swift pass off the base to O'Shea, who came blazing down the blindside, found Saints' defence napping and he scored to set up a tense finish. Cunningham missed the conversion.

Mendez was yellow-carded in injury time for a professional foul - a deliberate knock-on that killed a promising Exiles move.

Despite having an extra man, it was London Irish's last hurrah and they finished the match with Steven Bachop scrambling the ball away from underneath his own posts.

Teams

London Irish: O'Shea, Campbell, Bishop, Todd, Whetstone, Cunningham, Putt, N. Hatley, Kirke, Halford, Strudwick, Gabey, Boer, Dawson, Gallacher.
Replacements: Bachop, Tonu'u, Flavin, Mower, Worsley, Fullman, Harvey.

Northampton: Beal, Moir, Bateman, Allan, Cohen, Grayson, Malone, Pagel, Mendez, Stewart, Newman, Rodber, MacKinnon, Pountney, Lam.
Replacements: Bramhall, Northey, A. Hepher, Walter, Scelzo, Metcalfe, Holmes.

Referee: C Wright (RFU)

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See also:

08 Apr 00 | Rugby Union
Wasps win 11-try stormer
05 Apr 00 | Rugby Union
Rugby introduces 'penalties'
Links to other Rugby Union stories are at the foot of the page.