Impressive win for Saints at Bath

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Published: Saturday 21st February 2015 by The News Editor

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Northampton moved nine points clear at the Aviva Premiership summit after posting a key 21-13 victory over their nearest title rivals Bath at the Recreation Ground.

First-half tries by full-back James Wilson and hooker Mike Haywood sent Saints on their way, while fly-half Stephen Myler kicked three penalties and a conversion.

Bath flattered to deceive following an early Olly Woodburn try – full-back Tom Homer converted and booted two penalties – as Northampton shaded every key battle, especially up-front.

In completing a season’s league double over Bath, reigning English champions Northampton appear nailed on for a home play-off tie in May.

Bath, though, were left to reflect on successive Premiership defeats for the first time this term after losing against Saracens last weekend, and it is now four years since they beat Saints in league combat.

And life is not about to get any easier with play-off contenders Exeter awaiting them at Sandy Park next Saturday, with the Chiefs currently in prime form.

England quartet Anthony Watson, Jonathan Joseph, George Ford and Dave Attwood were all absent for Bath, but prop Paul James returned from Wales commitments and recent signing Homer made a home Premiership debut.

Northampton arrived in the west country without players like Dylan Hartley, Luther Burrell, George North and Tom Wood. Scrum-half Lee Dickson skippered the Saints, while prop Gareth Denman and lock James Craig gained starts, with Samu Manoa moving from second-row to blindside flanker.

And Bath blasted out of the blocks, moving ahead inside two minutes – although only at the second time of asking.

England wing Semesa Rokoduguni should have scored in the corner after being freed by centre Kyle Eastmond, but he was pulled down short of the line by opposite number Jamie Eliiott.

Just when the chance looked to have gone, though, Bath moved possession to the other wing, and Woodburn touched down after collecting Homer’s pass on the bounce, before Homer converted from the touchline.

Bath had made their intentions clear, but Northampton soon settled into the contest, and they tested their opponents defensively through some quality phase-play.

A Homer penalty sent Bath 10 points clear, yet Northampton hit back 12 minutes before the break after the normally-reliable Myler missed a straightforward penalty chance to open their account.

Saints stretched Bath into both corners before Wilson touched down under huge pressure from an Ollie Devoto tackle, but the try was only awarded following lengthy deliberation between referee Greg Garner and television match official Keith Lewis.

Myler sent the touchline conversion attempt wide, yet Saints were back in business, having weathered a considerable storm, and they went ahead following another spell of pressure highlighted by slick handling between backs and forwards.

On this occasion, it was Haywood who went over for the try, with Myler’s conversion hoisting Northampton into a 12-10 interval lead.

Saints were good value for their slender advantage, and they increased it seven minutes into the second period when Myler landed a penalty after Rokoduguni, who carried possession into touch five metres from his own line, recklessly threw the ball away.

It was poor discipline by the Bath player, and with Northampton’s forwards starting to gain an upper hand, Bath had it all to do in their quest to close the gap on Saints at the Premiership summit.

Another Myler penalty made it 18-10, before Homer found the target from 15 metres out, cutting Bath’s deficit as a hard-fought tussle move towards its closing stages.

Bath boss Mike Ford and his opposite number Jim Mallinder both made full use of their replacements’ benches, but Saints continued to show impressive composure, patiently building through the phases and retaining a territorial stranglehold.

Myler completed his penalty hat-trick to put Northampton further clear, and Homer’s inaccuracy off the tee was underlined when he missed another penalty opportunity after Saints centre George Pisi was yellow-carded for an aerial challenge on Rokoduguni.

And that was the end of matters for Bath as Northampton comfortably closed out the game to continue their relentless march in pursuit of back-to-back Premiership titles.

Published: Saturday 21st February 2015 by The News Editor

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