Struggling Saints need a lift
PA Sport
March 18, 2007

Northampton boss Paul Grayson admits his players are hurting after sliding to the bottom of the Guinness Premiership.

Saints' hopes of a critical victory over champions Sale Sharks to ease their relegation fears were dashed by a late converted try at Franklin's Gardens.

Lee Thomas added the extras to a Chris Bell touchdown, securing an 18-18 draw for Sale and leaving Northampton one point behind 11th-placed Worcester with a match in hand.

Saints' now face successive away games against Bristol, Newcastle and Wasps before concluding their league campaign at home to London Irish on April 28, while Worcester, who are on a three-match unbeaten run, face Bristol and Irish away, prior to hosting Saracens.

Grayson said: ``This is going to hurt, but we've just got to forget it and focus on the games coming up.

``I can't get stuck into the players because their effort levels were fantastic, but we should have put the game to bed.

``Two points are better than one, and we can't give up.

``It is a good lesson for the players. The tries we scored in the first half were not by bashing away, and if you have a game plan stick to it.''

Northampton have not recorded a Premiership home win since December 22, and it is a consistent absence of points at Franklin's Gardens that threatens to undermine their survival hopes.

Sale, whose chances of a successful title defence disappeared long ago, weredelighted to leave the east midlands with two points, which kept them nine above Saints.

Sharks rugby director Philippe Saint-Andre said: ``I am relieved. It's not finished, but I think we need just one more win now to be safe.

``It was a fantastic commitment from the players, because we didn't have enough ball.''

Leicester and Gloucester, meanwhile, continued their relentless push towards potential home semi-final ties in the title play-offs by recording respective bonus point victories over Bath and Harlequins.

Tigers triumphed 29-25, putting behind them the frustration of having one Premiership point docked last week for fielding an ineligible player earier this season.

Head coach Pat Howard said: ``We have scored eight tries to three in the last two games, which is pretty good, but I have got to sit down with the referees and talk to them about penalties.

``We have a difference of opinion on that score, and we have that every week.''

Olly Barkley kicked 17 of Bath's points, including five penalties, and although the west country matched Tigers blow for blow during a pulsating contest, they still have not won away in the Premiership since February last year.

Bath boss Steve Meehan said: ``It was a gutsy and a determined effort from the players to get us back into the match from 19-3 behind, although there were some interesting decisions along the way.

``There were a couple of decisions which went against us, but you have to take those. Although we lost, I am very happy with the way things are going.''

Gloucester and Quins shared eight tries at Kingsholm, but the London club fought back admirably from being 16 points adrift at half-time before going down 34-25 and leaving Gloucester head coach Dean Ryan largely unimpressed by his team.

Ryan said: ``It was a scrappy game, and we had plenty of opportunities to get a comfortable scoreline.

``We got dragged into a mess, and it left us with a taste of disappointment when we should have enjoyed it.

``But we have come through the international period winning all but one of our games (at Saracens), and we can't not be happy with that.''

Quins rugby director Dean Richards said: ``We threw it away in the first half.

``We need to win all our remaining games if we are going to finish in the top six, but I would rather look at the way we play the game, and on this occasion our play was very indifferent.

``We didn't adapt to the hard ground particularly well. We need to show more composure, and our defence has to improve.''

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