Northampton Saints inflicted a disappointing 33-18 defeat on Bath at Franklin's Gardens on Saturday, out-scoring the away team by four tries to two.
Steve Meehan afterwards rued a first half in which his side could not get into their game, and where indiscipline proved costly. Indeed, only five minutes had passed when Kiwi Bruce Reihana slotted his first penalty, although that was swiftly cancelled out when Olly Barkley's strike from 47 metres punished the Saints for not staying on their feet at a ruck.
The New Zealander's second penalty, given for being offside, was kicked from inside the Bath 22, and his third was taken almost from the halfway line, but dead in front of the posts. Reihana's successes were evidence, if it were needed, that for the opposition to concede penalties to Northampton from anywhere in their own half was as near asking for three points to be awarded them.
To compound the problem, the referee made Zak Feaunati paid the price for another offence at the breakdown by sending him to the sin-bin half-way through the first period. The Saints immediately looked to capitalise on their man advantage. After a testing kick into the Bath half, the ball swung right and although Bath scrambled it into touch, a textbook catch-and-drive at the lineout pushed Scottish prop Tom Smith over the whitewash, and put his side 14-3 up.
A chance to cut the deficit fell to Barkley soon after but his attempt shaved the right-hand upright. The Saints scored again just before half-time when they wheeled a seemingly innocuous scrum just inside the Bath half and Mark Robinson set off down the blindside, and passed to Robbie Kydd. Joe Maddock brought him down, but somehow the full-back smuggled a back-hand pass to Sean Lamont, whose try Reihana converted.
Yet Bath now proved their ability to play rugby. From the restart, they launched a zippy attack, and eventually a cross-field kick by Chris Malone bounced towards Feaunati, who flicked it to Andy Higgins and the wing touched down.
Barkley converted and also notched the first points after the break, with a penalty in front of the posts given for holding on. Bath certainly played better in this period, but could not take all their opportunities, while in contrast, the Saints, notably Carlos Spencer, showed their ability to conjure something from nothing.
Scooping the ball from the floor in his own half, the former All Black left several Bath players groping at his ankles before passing to Kydd for the full-back to score. However, the home team was forced to defend for the middle period of the half, but Bath chances went begging: a catch-and-drive was deemed to have been held up over the line, and Joe Maddock could not quite take another cross-field kick by Malone.
And no sooner did the ball go loose than Spencer put himself on the scoresheet, touching down under the posts, making the conversion simple for Reihana. Bath's consolation was to be the last to score again, Michael Stephenson rounding off the attempt to score a try after a penalty that was kicked to touch.
Afterwards, Meehan addressed both the positive and negative aspects of the performance: "I thought we could have won it. That second-half performance was very good but in some respects the damage was done in the first half. Out of the first 40 minutes we probably played for two, and scored a nice try to finish off that half. But the rest of the half, we just weren't in it.
"In that first half we couldn't find our game. We couldn't control the ball, our set piece wasn't as good as it should have been and any ball that we had we seemed to kick away, as a result probably of their defensive pressure."
5: Penalty Reihana, 3-0
7: Pen Barkley, 3-3
13: Pen Reihana, 6-3
17: Pen Reihana, 9-3
24: Try Smith, 14-3
37: Try Lamont, Conversion Reihana, 21-3
40: Try Higgins, Con Barkley, 21-10
43: Pen Barkley, 21-13
52: Try Kydd, 26-13
76: Try Spencer, Con Reihana, 33-13
80: Try Stephenson, 33-18
BATH: 15. N Abendanon 14. A Higgins (Stephenson, 58) 13. S Berne 12. O Barkley (Davis, 77) 11. J Maddock 10. C Malone 9. A Williams (Walshe, 41) 1. D Barnes (Flatman, 53) 2. L Mears (Hawkins, 77) 3. D Bell 4. R Fidler (Faamatuainu, 77) 5. D Grewcock (sin-bin: 80+8) 6. P Short 7. G Delve (Goodman, 15) 8. I Feaunati (captain; sin-bin: 20-30).
Replacements: 16. R Hawkins 17. D Flatman 18. C Goodman 19. J Faamatuainu 20. N Walshe 21. R Davis 22. M Stephenson.
NORTHAMPTON: 15. R Kydd (Myring, 74) 14. S Lamont 13. B Reihana (captain) 12. D Quinlan 11. B Cohen 10. C Spencer 9. M Robinson 1. T Smith 2. S Thompson (Richmond, 55) 3. P Barnard (Budgen, 75) 4. M Lord 5. C Short (Damien Browne, 75) 6. P Tupai (Lewitt, 70) 7. D Fox 8. Daniel Browne (Easter, 74).
Replacements: 16. D Richmond 17. C Budgen 18. Damien Browne 19. M Easter 20. B Lewitt 21. I Vass 22. L Myring.
Referee: W Barnes.