Stalemate bonus keeps Bath top

Reeling from the nerves of the last minute victory against Leicester Tigers last weekend, Bath Rugby were determined to get back on track at Franklin's Gardens and maintain top spot in the Guinness Premiership for at least another week and although the final score was 28-28 - Bath managed to do just that.

The Saints have proven that they are a tough unit to crack at home this season and Bath, missing three players on international duty, suffered another second half lapse, leaving it late to salvage a bonus point draw to move three points clear of Gloucester.

Bath got off to the perfect start as Butch James shot the visitors into a three-point lead after as many minutes and should have extended it a few moments later, only for the South Africa World Cup winner to push the ball wide of the uprights.

A good break from Alex Crockett saw the centre burst 40 metres down the wing before being hauled down a few metres from the line. The captain's efforts were not in vein though as a further Saints offence allowed James to make up for his earlier miss and Bath skipped into a six point advantage after 12 minutes.

However, the Saints have not lost at home this season and are building a team for Premiership consolidation this season and after a further three minutes the Saints marched back into the game with a try by winger Paul Diggin. Rugby League convert Stephen Myler added the extras and the Saints led 7-6.

Bath Rugby's ability not to panic under pressure has been a strong facet of their approach this season and showing great maturity, the visitors applied the pressure once more, building phases before Jack Cuthbert, an impressive young talent at fullback, burst through for his side's opening try of the match. James, in a rich vein of form with the boot converted to give the men in black, white and blue a deserved 7-13 lead with a quarter of the match gone.

James, in the thick of the action throughout, provided the breakthrough and nine minutes later crossed for Bath Rugby's second try of the match. However, the Saints chipped away at the lead with a second Myler penalty kick after 33 minutes to reduce the deficit to 10-16, much to the satisfaction of the Franklin's Gardens crowd.

Referee David Rose awarded a penalty at the ensuing breakdown, but making wonderful use of the ELVs, the visitors opted for the scrum and Daniel Browne lapped up the extra space to score his second try in as many weeks to leave Bath Rugby within a try of securing the all-important bonus point.

James's conversion drifted wide and Bath were denied the opportunity to score the psychological last points of the half. That pleasure fell to Myler, who capitalized on an infringement to stroke home his third penalty of the match and leave the Saints 13-21 in arrears at the interval.

The Saints returned after the break firing on all cylinders. The opening 10 minutes were owned by Northampton as a try by Mark Easter and conversion by Myler took them to within biting distance of the visitors' lead.

The Saints pressed ever forward and came close to scoring on a couple of occasions only to see their best efforts thwarted by excellent Bath defence. The game had swung worryingly in favour of the Saints, who finally took the lead in the 59th minute through a Myler drop goal. Not content with the two-point lead, the Saints stretched further ahead as as replacement Soane Tonga'uiha went over the line for a try.

It took every ounce of effort to weather the storm, but finally taking back possession, James Scaysbrook, who had come on for Daniel Browne, slipped up the wing, off-loading to fly half James, who in turn found Fuimaono-Sapolu to drive the visitors back into dangerous territory. The reward eventually came and Bath finally sealed five points as Jonny Faamatuainu danced over the line to the left of the posts. James's conversion equalised the score with just six minutes left on the clock.

With everything to play for, both teams were digging deep to find the last chances to grab the victory and a knock-on by Northampton appeared like the offering that Bath needed to clinch the win.

A late injury to Juandre Krugre halted the play and left supporters waiting anxiously in the cold, but when play resumed, a Saints offence gave Bath back possession and the hope of a get out of jail free card for the second week in a row. It was not to be though and as James cleared the ball into the crowd, the deflating result left Bath and Saints locked at 28-28.

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