Bath Rugby fought back at Franklin's Gardens this afternoon to claim a losing bonus point against the Aviva Premiership Champions, Northampton Saints, in a tight 31-24 victory for the home side.
It was advantage Northampton in the opening exchanges as a break from Ben Foden set-up a strong attacking platform. The ball was spun wide through the hands and it looked as if a certain try was about to be scored, but a deliberate knock-on from Luke Arscott left referee Tim Wigglesworth with no option but to award the home side a penalty try and show a yellow card to the fullback. Stephen Myler added the extra three with the conversion, giving the home side a 7-0 lead.
Saints maintained their early dominance - starving the visitors of any meaningful possession and making the extra man count on 15 minutes. Calum Clark was on the end of Luther Burrell's looping pass to go over in the corner after the home side had drawn the Bath defence into the centre of the 22. Myler was again on target to add the conversion. 14-0.
20 minutes into the game and with the back up to the full complement of 15 men, Bath were finding their rhythm. A well-taken lineout led to a good period of possession with phases being built patiently inside the Saints 22. Wave after wave of attack eventually broke the staunch barriers that Saints had erected, ending with David Wilson bulldozing his way over from five metres out. George Ford was on target with his first shot at goal, reducing the deficit to seven.
The two England fly-halves traded penalties with first Myler and then Ford bisecting the posts following penalties at the scrum and the breakdown respectively. Myler had the chance to extend the lead for the home side but he dragged his final attempt of the half wide.
Half-time: Northampton Saints 17 – Bath Rugby 10
Having taken control of the opening period of the first-half, Northampton promptly did the same in the second-half. Steady work from the forwards resulted in the ball being passed out wide to Foden, who in turn fed Christian Day to crash over in the corner. Myler re-discovered his range with the conversion, 24-10.
Foden created their fourth try in a similar fashion to the first, the fullback making a searing break from deep to set-up winger George Pisi in the corner. Myler's boot took the lead to 21 points, with 25 minutes left to play.
Just as it looked as if the hosts were going to run away with the game, Bath fought back. A neat pass from Ford created space for replacement Gavin Henson to ghost through a gap in the Northampton defence and then send a no-look pass out to Olly Woodburn. The winger sprinted away from the covering tackler and crossed for the try, and with Ford's conversion, the visitors' hopes were alive. 31-17.
Bath's resurgence continued, with Kyle Eastmond, Semesa Rokoduguni and Woodburn all working hard to try and find holes in the Saints defensive wall from which they could launch an attack. A well-earned penalty was dispensed to touch by Ford, and from the resulting line-out the forwards turned on the power for a heaving driving maul. At the back was replacement prop Nick Auterac, and the young loosehead crashed down over the line. Ford was once more on target, and Bath were back within seven points.
A tense end to the game was on hand and with Bath in the ascendancy, Northampton were having to keep their guard up. Wave after wave of pressure was being forced onto the home side, with penalties being dispensed to touch as Bath searched for the vital seven points that could draw the game.
The tried and tested driving maul was once more brought into play and, as the Bath forwards powered towards the try line , it looked as if Alafoti Fa'osiliva had grounded the ball over the whitewash. With the grounding in question, Wigglesworth called on the assistance of the TMO who ruled the try out.
It didn't deter Bath from using the closing seconds of the game to try and get the score but the Saints stood strong and the visitors had to be content with a losing bonus point.
Final score: Northampton Saints 31 – Bath Rugby 24.