Saints sweat on the fitness of Lam and Dawson
May 9, 2000

Northampton are confident that key men Matt Dawson and Pat Lam will both be fit for the Tetley's Bitter Cup final against Wasps next Saturday.

The pair miss tonight's dress rehearsal a rearranged Premiership appointment with the London club at Franklin's Gardens through injury.

England captain Dawson hurt his shoulder during the heroic Heineken Cup semi-final victory over Llanelli two days ago, while Saints skipper Lam is troubled by a similar problem.

Scotland wing Craig Moir is Northampton's third main fitness worry for the cup final, but is expected to shake off a knee injury in time.

"They are extremely resilient characters all three of them," said Northampton coach Paul Larkin.

"They will be desperate to be there at Twickenham on Saturday, and my feeling is that they will play. We are confident of that."

The international trio are among 14 of the victorious European semi-final side missing from tonight's Northampton line up.

Rugby director John Steele has given his first-choice performers, many of whom are carrying injuries, much-needed ime to recuperate.

Only Wales Under-21 lock Andy Newman remains from Sunday's thriller, while super-sub Paul Grayson, Saints' Madejski Stadium match-winner, is another likely starter.

But Steele will otherwise select from a combination of fringe first-teamers.

"The game is not ideal preparation for a cup final, having to play the same opponents just four days before it," Larkin admitted.

"We've got quite a few injuries from what was an extremely punishing semi-final against Llanelli, and it is up to us to protect our players in order to get the best out of them.

"Apart from the injuries to Pat Lam, Matt Dawson and Craig Moir, we've got a number of players with strains, bruising and dead legs."

Saints return to Premiership action barely 48 hours after Grayson's injury-time penalty broke Llanelli hearts and secured a first European final place for the Midlanders.

Northampton though, have four matches three league games and the Tetley's Bitter Cup final on their agenda before they can even contemplate tackling Munster at Twickenham later this month.

Saints haven't won a Premiership fixture since beating Sale on March 25, suffering successive league losses against Harlequins, Bath and Leicester and slipping down the table as a result.

Currently fourth, Northampton probably need two more wins to be sure of top-flight European rugby next term, although automatic qualification awaits both the Tetley's Bitter Cup winners and Heineken Cup champions.

Twickenham success next weekend represents Wasps' best European prospect, given the six-point league deficit between themselves and sixth placed Bristol.

Hooker Phil Greening is likely to be sidelined by knee trouble, but Wasps will otherwise have a full complement of players available to select from.

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