Bath Rugby were edged out 15-14 at Franklin’s Gardens this afternoon as Northampton Saints fought back in the second-half to take the Aviva Premiership victory.
With a slight advantage at the set-piece, Bath capitalised on errors from the home side to get their first points on the board. The hosts regained possession after Bath had disrupted their lineout, only for the visitors to quickly turn the ball over. Jonathan Joseph grubbered through and Jeff Williams set off in pursuit. It initially looked as if the kick from the centre would be dealt with by the Saints defence, but a slip from Harry Mallinder left the fullback stranded and Williams was on hand to pick the ball up and dot down over the line. Rhys Priestland added the conversion. 0-7, 12 minutes.
It looked as if Bath had doubled their lead shortly after, Anthony Watson jinking his way through the home defence to cross the whitewash, only for referee Wayne Barnes, after consultation with the Television Match Official, to rule the score out for a forward pass in the build-up.
In the 21st minute, Northampton were on the attack, but a big tackle from Ollie Devoto put Luther Burrell under pressure and caused the centre to throw a loose pass. Joseph was quickest to react and again kicked ahead. Williams raced off his wing, beating opposite number Ken Pisi to the ball. The former 7s star put boot to ball to skilfully hack ahead and then dived onto the bouncing ball to score. Priestland was again on target with the conversion, giving Bath 0-14 lead after the opening quarter.
Whilst the visitors had the advantage on the scoreboard, it was Saints who enjoyed the majority of possession and territory. They were unable to make it count though, coming up against a stubborn Bath defence that held them out and drew penalties to relieve the pressure at key moments.
It was the 39th minute before the home side looked to have scored – George North diving over in the corner from close range – but the TMO showed that the final pass was forward, so no try was given.
Half-time: Northampton Saints 0 – Bath Rugby 14
Bath were defending almost from the kick-off, and when Chris Cook was shown a yellow card, it offered Saints a numerical advantage they were quick to utilise.
Northampton repeatedly turned to their driving maul in their attempts to score, and it paid off in the 56th minute when Teimana Harrison peeled off the back and powered over in the corner, despite the last-ditch tackle from Dave Attwood.
Stephen Myler missed the conversion from out wide, but he made amends on the 62nd minute with a penalty to take Saints to within a converted try on the scoreboard. 8-14.
The bounce of the ball had been Williams’s ally in the first-half, but it turned against him in the second, denying him his hat-trick try. Replacement fly-half George Ford saw the winger in space and chipped across the field, only for the ball to bounce just a fraction out of the hands of the on-coming Williams.
Saints cranked up the pressure, and Bath battled hard to keep them from adding to their points tally.
Late in the game, Francois Louw and replacement scrum-half Will Homer held Tom Wood up over the line, only for Barnes to award a penalty against them for being offside. It gave the hosts the final chance they needed. Myler went for the corner, and whilst Bath were able to repel the initial drive that came, hooker Mikey Haywood darted around the side, ball in hand, to get the try. Myler kept his composure to add the conversion, taking Saints into the lead for the first time in the game, and it was a lead they held onto until the final whistle blew.
Final score: Northampton Saints 15 – Bath Rugby 14.