BLAYDON prop Dan Harper took his season's try tally to ten when he was twice driven over in the 26-15 win at Hull Ionians.

The 19st powerhouse has become the cornerstone of a pack whose National Three North opponents find their driving maul almost unstoppable.

With a sprinkling of snow and ice making handling difficult, Blaydon stopped trying to play open rugby after 20 minutes and kept it among the forwards.

They came back from 12-5 down at half-time to overpower their hosts and move up into seventh place.

They drove a maul 15 metres for one of Harper's tries, while they were also awarded a penalty try and Australian No 8 Tom McLaren scored in the first half.

Blaydon hope to have David Dalrymple back at fly half next week, but Lee Hogarth proved an adequate deputy as he landed three conversions, including one from the touchline which put them in front.

All Ionians' points came from penalties and on recent form they look likely relegation candidates, although they remain a point ahead of Darlington Mowden Park, whose game at Halifax was postponed.

Mowden slipped back to fourth from the bottom as Preston Grasshoppers produced the shock of the day with a 29-17 win at second-placed New Brighton.

This enabled Tynedale to move within one point of New Brighton as they braved half an inch of snow to win 24-3 at home to leaders Nuneaton.

The visitors' Tongan international half backs, brothers Elisi and Sukiti Vunipola, didn't relish the conditions and Tynedale's fierce tackling kept Nuneaton on the back foot.

Three penalties by Phil Belgian and a try by Andrew Murray established a 14-3 lead just after half-time and towards the end a penalty to the corner produced a try for Jamie Murray. Belgian converted and added his fourth penalty in injury time.

There was no snow at Acklam Park, but the muddy conditions prevented any flowing rugby in Middlesbrough's 8-8 draw with Westoe in North Two East.

It was not the sort of day on which to judge Boro's experiment of switching Peter Wright to fly half, with Tom Bivens at scrum half.

But Bivens did score the try which put them 8-3 ahead after 32 minutes. They lost the strike on their own put-in at a five-metre scrum, but when the ball squirted out Bivens pounced to touch down.

Just before half-time a good passing movement produced a try for Westoe's Mark Olugbode to complete the scoring. Boro dominated possession in the second half and came closest to scoring when flanker Gavin Fingland crossed, only to spill the ball.

Full back Andy Micklewright kicked Boro's penalty after 30 minutes to cancel out an early effort by opposite number Colin Gillespie.

Redcar produced a shock when they ended Bradford and Bingley's 100 per cent record with an 8-6 home win.

It was a forward battle on a muddy pitch and the decisive try was the only score of the second half, No 8 Neil Cook touching down. Steve Bryce kicked Redcar's penalty as they climbed above Stockton, whose home match against Scarborough was postponed.

The top three teams in Durham and Northumberland Division One all won, with Durham City's ninth successive victory leaving them five points adrift of leaders Northern, who clinched an injury time win at Billingham.

Phil Nicholson scored the try which climaxed Northern's fightback from 22-10 down at half-time as they won 31-27.

Former Gosforth winger John Atwood scored four tries against his old colleagues as they lost 42-10 at Durham City. There were three other tries for City, with full back Nick Howe adding a penalty and two conversions.

Second-placed Hartlepool Rovers avenged their home defeat by Hartlepool with a 19-10 win which virtually ended their neighbours' promotion hopes.

Powerful forward play produced two tries for Brian Robinson as Rovers led 12-5 at half-time, but a try by Ian Bond narrowed the gap to two points before Simon Rutherford finished a good move by the Rovers backs, Phil Hall adding the conversion.

l Northampton coach Wayne Smith admitted that his team have lurched into a mid-season crisis following their shock home defeat against Zurich Premiership strugglers London Irish.

The Exiles, Saints' emphatic Powergen Cup final conquerors last term, triumphed 22-10 as Northampton dropped to sixth place, six points adrift of a play-off spot.

They have now lost their last two league games, following a major cup scare at National League One outfit Orrell just before Christmas, when Saints required a late extra-time scoring burst to secure quarter-final status.

''There are always a couple of crises in a season, and we are going through one at the moment,'' Smith said.

''Irish were more physical than us going forward, in the tackle and with ball in hand. They beat us up.

''We definitely panicked - our skills went to pieces - but we have still got a lot to play for,'' he added.

''Next week is a big game against Biarritz in the Heineken Cup, then there is the Powergen Cup quarter-final at Bath. We've had a setback, but we can't just give up.''

Fly-half Barry Everitt was the Irish match-winner, kicking 17 points, including a conversion of full-back Michael Horak's early try, while England hooker Steve Thompson collected Saints' solitary touchdown.

Reigning Premiership champions Leicester, seeking a fifth successive title, put themselves back in the play-off picture by defeating visitors Saracens 23-18 after trailing at half-time.

Leicester, reeling from three league defeats in a row, had never lost four on the bounce, and tries from Ollie Smith and Leon Lloyd ensured that the statisticians would be kept quiet.

Full-back Adryan Winnan scored all Saracens' first-half points through a try and two penalties, while Tim Horan's late touchdown ensured a bonus point, but Leicester had just enough in the tank to move fourth.

Wasps produced a valiant display against runaway leaders Gloucester at sold-out Kingsholm, leading on three occasions before Henry Paul took centre-stage.

Paul, handed the kicking duties after Gloucester's French fly-half Ludovic Mercier missed four successive shots at goal, landed two second-half penalties then bagged an injury-time try to see his team home 24-17.