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Bath perform but Easter comes early for Northampton

For a neutral this game provided one of the most entertaining Guinness Premiership matches of the season with both sides playing some fine attacking rugby. For Bath Rugby a win would have meant almost certain safety from relegation and a chance of bucking a trend of having beaten Northampton Saints only once in their last eight previous visits to Franklin's Gardens.

Bath started the game at a frenetic pace and some fine movement among the backs resulted in centre Alex Crockett releasing Andy Higgins down the right wing for what looked like a certain try, only for Ben Cohen to bundle him into touch at the last moment.

Whilst the game was certainly a free-flowing one, the battle amongst the forwards was always going to be important between the sides and early pressure was visible when Saints' flanker Paul Tupai was given an early warning from referee David Rose. While the packs were evenly matched, Bath had a slight upper hand for most of the game.

The opening score came in the 18th minute courtesy of Salesi Finau who snapped up Chris Malone's pass to crash over in the corner. The resulting conversion attempt produced some rest bite for the sell-out crowd as Malone's placement resulted in the ball being blown over a few times before he had a chance to make contact. Once Andy Williams volunteered to hold the ball in place, Malone's kick just missed the uprights.

Saints replied eight minutes later with some Carlos Spencer inspired magic. The fly-half carved up the Bath defense with some fine running to find himself deep in the away sides territory and just as it looked like he was about to go for the try line himself, he passed to a rampaging Bruce Reihana who outpaced his markers to score a wonderful try. Reihana claimed all seven points by successfully converting. The home side then hit again in the 32nd minute as Saints pressure told with Ben Cohen this time taking the honors to score a try. Reihana hit the conversion. Northampton went into the break 14-5 up.

The second half started with fly-half Chris Malone going off at the break to be replaced by Samoan international Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu who made his first appearance since February due to a knee injury. With Fuimano-Sapolu going into inside-centre, Barkley took over the number ten jersey.

Almost immediately the tactical change, admittedly brought on by Malone being taken off through injury, paid off with Bath attacking the Saints line and it nearly resulted in a Bath try. Eventually after several phases, the home side gave away a penalty in front of the posts and Barkley stepped up to easily it hit over.

Minutes later though and Bath scored again. Quick decision making by Andy Williams, saw the Wales international scrum-half take a quick tap-penalty and he was brought down only ten metes from the try-line. Quick recycled ball resulted in a two man overlap and Joe Maddock strolled in to score. Barkley converted and Bath were back in front.

More Spencer magic then opened the away side up again and a good run by number eight Daniel Browne let in Reihana for his second try. Reihana missed the conversion but Saints had the lead. With the home support's voice growing, Bath responded through two Olly Barkley penalties to set up a tense climax to the game.

Saint's second half substitute Mark Easter won the game towards the end of the match after latching onto a Spencer pass and brushing off Nick Abendanon to score. Spencer then proved he was human by missing the conversion.

Bath then rallied and showed the tremendous progress that they have been making under Brian Ashton by almost conjuring up a late score with some excellent handling from their own twenty two through several phases of play. However the ball was eventually turned over and Saints secured the victory but Bath did come away with a bonus point.

Bath: Maddock (Abendanon 72), Finau, Crockett, Barkley, Higgins, Malone (Fuimaono-Sapolu 40), Williams; Flatman (Bell 50), Dixon (Mears 60), Filise, Borthwick (Fidler 77), Grewcock, Short, Lipman (Feaunati 70), Delve.

Scorers:

Bath: Tries - Finau, Maddock; Conversions - Barkley (1), Penalties - Barkley (3),
Northampton: Tries - Reihana (2), Cohen, Easter; Conversions - Reihana (2)

Att: 13, 454

Ref: David Rose

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