Anglo-Welsh Cup Semi-Finals
Saints to meet Gloucester in Anglo-Welsh final
March 14, 2010
Brian Mujati celebrates scoring Northampton's second try against Saracens at Franklin's Gardens © Getty Images
Northampton Saints will play Gloucester in the final of the Anglo-Welsh Cup at Sixways Stadium next Sunday after seeing off the challenge of Saracens 31-20 at Franklin's Gardens.
Gloucester had earlier dispatched reigning champions Cardiff Blues 29-18 at the Cardiff City Stadium in a re-run of last season's final. As a result two Guinness Premiership sides will contest the first ever all-English final in the tournament's brief four-year history.
The Saints were good value for their victory over struggling Sarries, with two tries in two minutes just after the break settling the tie while Richard Skuse was in the sin-bin. South African tight-head Brian Mujati barrelled over in the corner off the back of a pinpoint pass from Bruce Reihana before wing Paul Diggin was on hand to round off a sniping break conjured by Shane Geraghty and Chris Ashton.
The Saints were ahead early after the ever-impressive Phil Dowson breached the Sarries defence inside the opening 10 minutes but the boot of Derick Hougaard pegged back the home side. He traded penalties with Geraghty to leave the Saints with a 14-12 half-time lead. Mujati and Diggin extended that lead before Neil Best crashed over for their fourth, with Sarries replacement Justin Melck scoring a consolation amid a flurry of late yellow cards.
Northampton director of rugby Jim Mallinder is looking forward to the final showdown but is wary of a resurgent Gloucester side. "It's going to be a hard game," he said. "They have improved massively since the start of the season and they will go in fancying themselves to beat us. And we don't know who will be available because I noticed England picked up some injuries yesterday, both up front and out wide which could affect players we have available. We'll have to wait and see."
Saints' dreams of the treble remain intact - they are the only English team in quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup and are currently second in the Premiership - and Mallinder hopes his squad can hold up as the fixtures come thick and fast. "Only time will tell how we manage in the three competitions," he said. "But I've told my players we want to have our holidays in the summer, not in the middle of the season, as a number of clubs are having at this moment."
Saracens director of rugby Brendan Venter felt the sin-binning of Richard Skuse on the stroke of half-time, when his side were 12-11 up, was the turning point. "That was hugely significant," the South African said, who branded Skuse's yellow - for lying on the wrong side of the ruck - as "stupid". "We were leading by a point and 10 minutes later, they have scored 13 points. It killed the game for us."
Earlier, a hat-trick of tries from wing James Simpson-Daniel saw Gloucester advance with victory over the Blues. The Cherry and Whites had lost 50-12 to the Blues in last year's Anglo-Welsh final and had suffered a 26-25 defeat against the Welsh side in the pool stages of this year's competition, but they were not to be denied this time around.
The sides were locked at 10-10 at the break. Former New Zealand centre Casey Laulala went over for the Blues while fullback Freddie Burns crossed for the Cherry and Whites. Ben Blair and Nicky Robinson kicked five points apiece. But a hat-trick from Simpson-Daniel put the visitors out of sight, meaning Ceri Sweeney's late try was little consolation for Dai Young's side.
The Blues paid heavily for their 10 minute period with 14 men, flanker Ben White was sin-binned for slowing down the ball, with Simpson-Daniel able to get over out wide and open up a decisive gap.
Jubilant Gloucester coach Bryan Redpath revealed he had given hat-trick hero Simpson-Daniel a piece of his mind at the interval. "I thought he had a mixed match in the first half," Redpath said of Simpson-Daniel. "I had a bit of a go at him at half-time. But I'm delighted for him that he went out and scored three tries, particularly when he came in at an angle for the second one."
Redpath also praised former Blues' fly-half Robinson for helping his side ensure good field position and dominate territory. "That was the big thing. We had the territory in the first half, but kept coughing up possession and falling off tackles. In the second half Nicky had some great kicks for the corners and this time we took advantage."
Young agreed with Redpath's assessment that his side had lost the territorial battle. "It was a typical Nicky performance, some good things and some he would have liked to do better," he said. "But his kicking out of hand was a big factor in Gloucester's victory. We had opportunities to break their momentum, but our lineout wasn't right and when we made line breaks we tried to force the pass."