Bath Rugby, inspired by the boot of George Ford, powered to a 14-18 season-opening win against Northampton Saints this afternoon - ending a 16-year hoodoo at Franklin's Gardens in the process.
Director of Rugby Todd Blackadder had spoken earlier in the week about this Bath Rugby team being unaffected by any historical hang-ups, and so it proved.
Bath overcame the disappointment of losing new signing Taulupe Faletau to a leg injury in the opening quarter, although the brawn and energy of young Tom Ellis proved a fine replacement against the big Saints pack.
Saints had territorial dominance for most of the first half - indeed, most of the match - without being able to break the watertight Bath defence, meaning it was up to Ford to finally break the deadlock in the 33rd minute with his penalty kick. 0-3.
Bath's defence was typified by none other than ex-Saint Kahn Fotuali'i, who shone throughout the match with his fearless tackling and tactical awareness. The exemplary forwards set the stage for the half-backs to fly, and it was captain Matt Garvey, in blocking a Saints clearance kick in the home 22 that set in motion Bath's next points.
Lock Charlie Ewels carried hard into the middle of the home 22, where the ball was recycled to Ford, already standing expectantly in the pocket, to kick a neat drop goal. 0-6.
Northampton fly-half Mallinder missed his second penalty kick at goal just before 40 minutes to give Bath a decent, if slender, lead going into the half-time break.
HALF TIME: Northampton Saints 0-6 Bath Rugby
Ford's boot had little time to cool before it was being called into action again in the second half; the England international kicking another penalty four minutes after their re-emergence from the changing room. 0-9.
In the ensuing 17 minutes, both teams failed to capitalise on try-scoring opportunities (Bath's most notably via the always-standout Semesa Rokoduguni), but it was up to Ford again to keep the scoreboard ticking with another spectacular drop goal just after the hour. 0-12.
On 63 minutes, Bath's fighting forwards won a scrum against the head in the home 22, which the metronomic Ford converted into points from out on the left. He then made it 0-18 with under ten minutes left to play when Saints were penalised for a no-arms tackle.
Nobody ever said a visit to Franklin's Gardens was easy, and when replacement scrum-half Chris Cook was sin-binned for not retreating with seven minutes remaining, Northampton's fans rightfully went wild as debutant Nic Groom scored a brace of quick tries (both converted by Stephen Myler). 14-18.
Bath showed cool heads, even when many a supporter off the field might have been losing theirs, and composed themselves to keep the clock ticking down to keep hold of their four-point lead and secure a well-deserved and memorable victory.
FULL TIME: Northampton Saints 14-18 Bath Rugby
3 September 2016
Referee: JP Doyle
Half Time score: 0-6
- Tries: Groom (73, 77)
- Conversions: Myler (74, 78)
- Penalties: Ford (33, 44, 64, 70)
- Drop goals: Ford (37, 60)