x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Diggin saves the best until last for Saints

The season is only one-weekend old but Northampton posted an early contender for the comeback of the season at Franklin's Gardens yesterday.

The season is only one-weekend old but Northampton posted an early contender for the comeback of the season at Franklin's Gardens yesterday. Trailing 17-0 and heading for a shock home defeat after Miles Benjamin and Kai Horstman crossed the try-line for Worcester, the Saints clawed their way back into the game with a try from Phil Dowson and eight points from the boot of Shane Geraghty, the England international making his debut for his new club.

Northampton continued to dominate territory and they seized their chance when Worcester were forced to play the closing stages with 14 men after Willie Walker was sin-binned The Saints passed the ball out to the left and Bruce Reihana off-loaded inside to Paul Diggin, who dived over the line to send the home crowd into raptures. Geraghty added the conversion to seal a 20-17 victory. Jimmy Gopperth missed four penalty attempts on his Newcastle debut as Leeds Carnegie claimed a 9-9 draw on their return to the league yesterday.

The highly-rated New Zealander, 26, has been tasked with filling Jonny Wilkinson's kicking role following the England fly-half's move to Toulon. Yet Gopperth failed to match Wilkinson's accuracy with the boot as he converted only three of seven penalty kicks in a bitterly disappointing encounter which saw precious little free-flowing rugby. All of Leeds' points came from the boot of fly-half Ceiron Thomas, who landed three penalties of his own but still managed to miss two, and despite a late rally the Yorkshire side could not conjure a precious victory.

Harlequins were plunged into fresh controversy just 46 seconds into the new season on Saturday. Lock forward George Robson was sent off for butting Joe Simpson, the London Wasps scrum-half, at the start of Harlequins' 26-15 defeat at Twickenham, the club's first chance to start building bridges after their summer of shame. Robson can expect a suspension of at least a month for his moment of madness that forced Harlequins into another public relations disaster.

Robson apologised for his actions but the sentiment cut little ice with Simpson. "He came and said sorry after the match, which I accepted, but I am still pretty frustrated and disappointed with what happened," said Simpson. "It is not really the spirit of rugby, I don't think." The incident overshadowed the performance of Tom Varndell, the jet-heeled wing, who scored two tries on his debut following his summer move from Leicester.

"Tom has shown us through the pre-season that he is more than just a try-scorer," said Wasps coach Tony Hanks. "His work-rate is strong, he runs hard and he is more than just a try-scorer." Meanwhile, the England captain Steve Borthwick was thrilled with Saracens' 18-14 victory over London Irish. "It was a display of great character," he said. "It was always going to be a tight game and they came back at us. But the way every single person fought for the ball - our players are willing to fight and work so very, very hard. We won because of the character of the group.

"The willingness of the guys to put themselves out for each other was what won us the game." Meanwhile Dean Richards, the disgraced former Harlequins coach may launch a legal challenge to his three-year ban from rugby over his instigation of Harlequins' fake blood injury scam. The English club's former director of rugby was publicly blamed last week for the use of a blood capsule to fake an injury to Tom Williams and allow an illegal substitution in a high-profile Heineken Cup match against Leinster, but his lawyer said yesterday that his punishment was "disproportionate".

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