Confident first forty sets up Bath victory

A try apiece for the forwards and backs in the first half - Danny Grewcock and Nick Abendanon the scorers - set Bath on the road to victory over Northampton Saints at the Rec on Saturday, 22-17.

In front of a sell-out crowd of 10,600, and in the spring sunshine, Bath's first-half performance not only established a lead, but gave them the confidence - and a points cushion - to withstand a fightback by the Saints late in the second half.

An early attack by Northampton took the Saints within 10 metres of the line, but excellent tackling turned them over, and Nick Walshe booted the ball upfield, leading eventually to a scrum midway in the visitors' half. However, Bath made a similar error a few minutes later, after Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu and Abendanon had taken them into the Saints' 22.

But Northampton conceded a free kick at the scrum, were then penalised for not rolling away, and Olly Barkley struck three points to give Bath the lead.

Having sent a beautiful spiralling kick into the Saints half, which bounced once into touch just shy of the tryline, Barkley kicked his second penalty, for although Saints took the lineout quickly, Bath were alert and the threat of their counter-attack forced the visitors to concede another penalty.

The Saints restarted again, but Bath were soon back in their half, and though two series of attacks led to nothing, the second was halted when the Saints were penalised at the ruck. Number 8 Christian Labit was shown a yellow card and Bath kicked to touch. Grewcock claimed the lineout ball, and moments later, when the ball found its way back to the England lock, he crashed over the tryline on the left-hand side to score.

Between the twenty- and thirty-minute marks, Northampton managed to win more possession than in the first quarter of the game, but Bath's defence kept them from getting within range. Instead, a mis-pass by Barkley gave David Bory space, and the French winger made thirty metres, offloaded to Michael Lipman, and he in turn to Joe Maddock. Bath were now well into the Saints' 22, and threatened to score again, but as Bory lunged for the line, the ball fell loose.

Northampton managed to clear when given a penalty, but missed touch, and Abendanon started yet another foray into their half. An attempted drop-goal by Chris Malone went astray, but Maddock's tackle on Ben Cohen, who claimed the restart, forced a turnover.

When Abendanon scooped up a loose ball just by halfway, little seemed on, but the full-back carved up the Northampton defence, and though Bruce Reihana chased him down, the ball was recycled and this time Abendanon took the ball on and scored. Bath led 16-0 at half-time.

Bath wasted no time in getting out of the blocks after half-time, making headway to the Saints' 22 in a move that began when Maddock caught Walshe's box kick above his head. But two penalties - one for holding on, one for pulling a man at the lineout - allowed the Saints to enter Bath's half and string together their best attack of the match so far. A third penalty ensued, in front of the posts, and Matthieu Bourret took the chance to notch the visitors' first points.

The restart fell short, allowing Northampton possession and territory again, but this time they conceded two penalties, again, one for holding on and one when Grewcock was pulled down at the lineout. And this time, Bath won a third penalty, within kickable distance, and Barkley slotted three points.

The Saints hit straight back, attacking from the restart, and a quick ball and forwards and backs combined to create a sure score on the left - but the final pass was adjudged forward by the referee.

A long clearance by Malone put play back in their half, and Cohen's throw-in to himself misfired when Reihana was penalised for holding on. This time, Bath nearly scored, but Abendanon's pass went beyond Grewcock into touch.

Although a penalty gave Saints the chance to clear, they were turned over in midfield after the lineout, and soon Barkley was lining up another penalty.

Northampton refused to lie down. With two substitutes in the forwards, they used a rolling maul to move steadily towards Bath's 22. Dylan Hartley broke off to take them on still further, and eventually Bath conceded a penalty. The Saints kicked to touch and then reached the line, but were held up. However, a couple of scrums on the Bath line wore them down, and eventually Mark Robinson reached over to score.

With this, the Saints began to exert a grip on the game, controlling the ball through their forwards, and cutting out the mistakes that had let them down earlier. So it was that they worked their way back again to the Bath line, and set up a nail-biting end to the match when Robbie Kydd cut through Bath's defence at an angle and scored. Bourret's conversion shut the gap to five points.

A couple of minutes remained, and though the Saints took the ball at the restart, Bath's disciplined defence prevented them from making much progress, and Bath remained ahead when the final whistle blew.

Although the Saints had clawed back a losing bonus point, Steve Meehan, the Head Coach, was pleased with a performance that showed the good rugby Bath are capable of playing.

"In the first half, we were really positive," he said. "We should have scored more points than we did - we should have buried Northampton in the first half."

Meehan added that Bath remain positive and ambitious towards this season's Guinness Premiership : "We have got four matches left in the Premiership and still have an opportunity to get in the top half of the table."

11: Penalty Barkley, 3-0
15: Pen Barkley, 6-0
22: Try Grewcock, 11-0
40: Try Abendanon, 16-0
45: Pen Bourret, 16-3
51: Pen Barkley, 19-3
64: Pen Barkley, 22-3
74: Try Robinson, Con Bourret, 22-10
80+4: Try Kydd, Con Bourret, 22-17

BATH: 15. N Abendanon 14. J Maddock 13. E Fuimaono-Sapolu 12. O Barkley 11. D Bory 10. C Malone 9. N Walshe (Williams, 79)1. D Barnes 2. P Dixon (Hawkins, 75) 3. M Stevens 4. P Short 5. D Grewcock (Louw, 75) 6. A Beattie 7. M Lipman (Scaysbrook, 75) 8. I Feaunati (captain)

Replacements: 16. R Hawkins 17. A Jarvis 18. H Louw 19. J Scaysbrook 20. C Walker 21. S Berne 22. A Williams

NORTHAMPTON: 15. B Reihana (captain) 14. M Bourret 13. S Mallon 12. R Kydd 11. B Cohen 10. C Spencer 9. M Robinson 1. T Smith 2. D Hartley (Cortese, 79) 3. J Brooks (Tonga'Uhia, 65) 4. D Browne (Lord, 65) 5. C Short 6. P Tupai 7. D Fox 8. C Labit (sin-bin: 20-32)

Replacements: 16. M Cortese 17. S Tonga'Uhia 18. M Lord 19. M Hopley 20. J Howard 21. S Myler 22. V Going

Referee: R Maybank
Attendance: 10,600

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