Super Saints slay Dragons
Northampton Saints are almost certain to be through to the knockout stages of the LV= Cup after they took the second half of their clash with Newport Gwent Dragons by the scruff of the neck and finished with a bonus-point 34-16 victory.
Tries from wing Fa'atoina Autagavaia, a penalty try, hooker Mike Haywood, prop Gareth Denman and back row Gerrit Jan Van Vetize plus three conversions and a penalty from fly-half Glenn Dickson secured the win that leaves second-placed Scarlets six points adrift with one game to play in the pool.
Two bonus-point victories by Newcastle, who play on Sunday, would put them level on 14 points with Northampton - but that is a tall order.
All the Dragons' points came in the first half - a try from scrum-half Luc Jones plus a conversion and three penalties by fly-half Jason Tovey.
Torrential rain, which had threatened to fall before the match, took its toll on the Rodney Parade pitch before the turnaround.
Referee Andrew Small opted to take the players off the pitch on 35 minutes when a huge hailstorm lashed down, causing the Northampton players, who were in the face of it, to turn their backs on a penalty from Tovey.
Northampton got the first points of the game when Dickson fired home a 30-metre penalty but the Welshmen, who have little chance of reaching the knockout stages, hit back despite their inferiority in the scrum.
With the wind in their favour, Tovey put the Dragons three points up with two penalties, one from the halfway line, but soon Northampton's heavy pack - led by skipper Phil Dowson - put the squeeze on the home side.
Saints were also alive as the home side tried to clear their defence. Several times the defence charged Dragons clearance kicks down.
But that scrum dominance brought the Aviva Premiership side the first try of the match as the front row of prop Ethan Waller, hooker Haywood and tight-head Denman put the pressure on the home front row, causing them to collapse and giving ref Small no option but to run under the posts for a penalty try that Dickson converted.
However, the Dragons bounced back with another Tovey penalty to come to within a point. It was short-lived, though.
Ross Wardle, on as a wing replacement for injured Matthew Pewtner, skidded over the ball on his own 22, Autagavaia seized possession and raced from the 22 into the corner for the touchdown.
The Dragons gained a man advantage when Saints' flanker Teimana Harrison was sent to the sin-bin for going over the top of a ruck illegally, leaving Tovey to attempt a 41-metre penalty, which he missed, in the face of the hailstorm.
On their return from a two-minute break, the hosts seized the initative with a try on the stroke of half-time when Jones sneaked over for his converted touchdown that gave the Welshmen a one-point advantage going into the break.
Yet, as conditions improved and the sun came out for a few minutes, Saints went up a few gears, played possession and territory rugby and, for most of the time, kept the Dragons under control.
Hayward went over soon after the restart before Denman strolled over in the right corner for the bonus point touchdown.
Van Vertze got the fifth Saints try with 10 minutes left before the Dragons had claims for a second try when Wardle kicked and chased the ball from halfway and thought he had touched down in the water at the Northampton end - only to be denied by the TV official's decision.