Bath Rugby endeavoured to end their impressive season with some silverware, but were denied as Northampton Saints finished the Amlin Challenge Cup Final strong 16-30 winners.
The power of George Ford’s boot was tested only two minutes after kick-off with a penalty just behind the halfway line. It passed with flying colours, soaring straight downfield and over the posts. 3-0.
Within six minutes, a collapsed scrum on Bath’s 22 enabled Northampton 10 Stephen Myler to draw Saints level. 3-3.
When Anthony Watson was taken in the air in the eleventh minute, Ford found the first of several sterling kicks to touch in the first half. Dave Attwood took a superb lineout and Bath relentlessly mauled over the Saints line. The TMO declared no try, but referee Jerome Garces went back for an original penalty, which Ford nailed. 6-3.
Myler struck again on 22 minutes, following some heroic turnover work by Francois Louw in the shadow of the Bath posts. 6-6.
After a long period of sustained pressure, Bath finally broke loose after Saints’ ruck was disrupted. The ball spilled loose for a lightning-quick Anthony Watson to run 60m for an unopposed try. Ford converted in front of the posts. 13-6.
A scintillating phase of attack was instigated by Watson three minutes from half time, and although it was snuffed out in Saints’ 22, the TMO adjudged that Louw was tackled off the ball. Ford missed with a difficult penalty and a very positive first half for Bath ended 13-6.
Half time: Bath Rugby 13 – Northampton Saints 6
As play recommenced in the second half, Saints loosehead Alex Corbisiero was yellow-carded after a dangerous off-the-ball tackle on Captain Stuart Hooper. Ford missed with the penalty attempt, however, and Saints breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Some hesitant play by Bath in the 46th minute led to an offside penalty to Saints from within the former’s 10m line. Myler was on song again with his kicking, bringing his side to within four points of Bath. 13-9.
Myler was at it again after 55 minutes, punishing Bath for not releasing at the ruck. His successful penalty kick put a single point between the two sides. 13-12 to Bath.
It was under more pressure in their own half that Bath conceded another penalty – this one with almost an hour gone. Myler took Saints into the lead for the first time with a kick from in front of the posts. 13-15.
Bath were penalised for wheeling the scrum in the 62nd minute, which gave Myler another straightforward shot at goal. Penalty successful, he took Saints a further five points clear. 13-18.
It was a penalty to Bath, this time in Saints’ 22, which saw Ford return to form with his kicking and claw the score back to 16-18.
After repeatedly holding out Saints on their 5m line, something eventually had to give for Bath. Replacement loosehead Anthony Perenise was sin-binned, and at the maul that followed Phil Dowson eventually emerged from the mass of collapsed bodies the tryscorer. Myler converted. 16-25.
As Bath sought to make a final meaningful attack at Saints’ line with five minutes on the clock, Myler intercepted on Northampton’s 22. He was soon caught up with and slung the ball wide, where some gallant Bath defence was ultimately futile as fullback Ben Foden touched down. Myler missed his only kick of the night with the conversion attempt.
Whilst Saints deserved the victory, Bath will undoubtedly emerge stronger for their 2013/14 campaign next season.
Full time: Bath Rugby 16 - Northampton Saints 30