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Match Report: Northampton Saints 40 – 26 Bedford Blues

Northampton Saints kicked off their preseason campaign with a 40-26 victory over Bedford Blues, ensuring new Director of Rugby Phil Dowson began his tenure with a win.

Mikey Haywood, Matty Arden, Sam Graham and Robbie Smith all crossed the whitewash during the first half for the hosts, with Courtnall Skosan and Tom James adding to the tally after the break – while Bedford showed plenty of life with four tries of their own.

Just over 6,000 people enjoyed the lively cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens encounter, with Saints also running out in the Club’s new 2022/23 away kit for the first time.

There was a buzz around the ground before kick-off with five new signings starting the clash for Northampton in Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, James Ramm, Angus Scott-Young, Ethan Waller and Graham.

But it was the Blues who produced the early pressure, as Sean French scored in the right corner in the third minute after a neat cross-field kick from Michael Le Bourgeois, but Saints hit straight back moments later after back-to-back penalties from the visitors handed them possession inside the 22.

A sharply-executed lineout drill and drive saw Haywood over at the back of the rolling maul, and Arden converted from out wide to make it 7-5.

Northampton then extended their advantage from a scrum inside their own 22; a searing break from Saints saw Tom Litchfield carve through a gap and find Tom Collins outside him, before the wing burst deep into Bedford territory.

As Blues scrambled back a deliberate knock-on from former Saint Jordan Onojaife bought the hosts a penalty, and off the back of the resulting scrum, Litchfield wriggled out of a couple of tackles before offloading to Arden who dived over and converted his own score.

Collins was at the centre of the action again in the 16th minute with another break down the left. His offload found Ramm and Saints worked the ball to Sam Graham, who dived over under the posts and celebrated a try on his first appearance at the Gardens.

Arden again made no mistake with the conversion to take the scoreline to 21-5, and there was still time before the break for Saints to score again.

Northampton introduced a new front row ahead of the interval – with Alfie Petch, Emmanuel Iyogun and Robbie Smith all entering the fray – and it was the latter who made an immediate impact with a try at the back of another perfectly-executed rolling maul.

Arden’s conversion was unlucky to strike the post this time and Saints went into the sheds 26-5 to the good.

After a nip-and-tuck start to the second half (with the hosts having almost completely changed their line-up), Saints edged their way up to Bedford’s tryline before James Grayson’s massive pass over the top gave Skosan the platform to skip through a couple of tackles and score.

The Blues came to life however around the hour mark with two quickfire tries; first, after kicking a penalty into the corner, Saints halted Bedford’s lineout drive effectively but Jack Hughes burst off the back and around the side of the maul to burrow over in the corner.

Two minutes later, Ed Coulson was also over after Matt Worley broke down the right and the former Saint’s smart inside ball sent him clear.

Two successful conversions from French made it 33-19, but Northampton found their feet again with a sustained period of possession before James Grayson beat a couple of Blues to surge into the 22, and eventually George Hendy assisted James for the score.

There was still time for Worley to grab a try of his own, cleverly quick-tapping a penalty on halfway before darting through a gap to score right of the posts, with French again converting.

But it was Northampton who celebrated a 40-26 triumph on the full-time whistle, with a trip to Ospreys up next for Dowson’s side next Friday evening.

SAINTS: Ramm, Skosan, Proctor, Litchfield, Collins, Arden, James; E Waller, Haywood, Hill, Salakaia-Loto, Coles, Scott-Young, Irvine, Graham
Replacements: Iyogun, A Waller, Smith, Fish, Petch, Heffernan, Atuanya, Moon, Sylvester, Patten, Braley, J Grayson, Matavesi, Kean, Hendy

BLUES: Worley, French, Elliott, E Grayson, Adamson, Le Bourgeois, Day (c); Conway, Hughes, Barrett, Onojaife, Woolford, Frost, Arthur, Uru
Replacements: Royston, Prowse, Williams, Rylands, Garside, Tapley, Apps, Coulson

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