Northampton Saints 14 Bath 18: Tom Vickers’ review and player ratings

Louis Picamoles made his Saints debut against Bath (pictures: Kirsty Edmonds)
Louis Picamoles made his Saints debut against Bath (pictures: Kirsty Edmonds)

For a fan, the feeling was one you might experience had you planned a party for a few months and then, come the big day, no one turned up.

For a player, the feeling was one you might experience had you worked day and night for six weeks only to look at your bank balance and see it reading zero.

That kind of utter deflation was experienced by everyone of a Saints persuasion on the first day of the new season.

After a promising opening 20 minutes, when Saints put Bath under real pressure, it all went a bit flat.

The opening-day Champagne started to lose its fizz and there was no pop in the party poppers.

Instead, it was all about the party poopers: Bath.

Harry Mallinder had a difficult day

Harry Mallinder had a difficult day

They came with a plan and, in torrid conditions, they executed it superbly.

After seeing out a stormy start, during which Harry Mallinder, starting at 10, missed two penalties for Saints, Bath battled to gain territory.

And every time they got it, they claimed points, with George Ford’s kicking from tee and from hand setting them up nicely.

With Mallinder missing at the other end, the England man made sure he took his chances when they came, putting Bath 6-0 up at the break and 18-0 up with 10 minutes to go.

Teimana Harrison and George North couldn't turn the tide for Saints

Teimana Harrison and George North couldn't turn the tide for Saints

It was a ruthless display from the kicker, the kind that has so often been seen from Stephen Myler in the past.

In fact, Myler has frequently outclassed Ford in these fixtures, with the Saints man refusing the blink in the scrap between the 10s.

The standout example of Myler winning the battle of wits came in Cardiff in May, 2014, when Ford started brightly but went to pieces.

When Ford started to miss his shots at goal during the second period, Myler relentlessly knocked the ball between the posts to earn his team Amlin Challenge Cup glory.

Stephen Myler landed two conversions after coming off the bench

Stephen Myler landed two conversions after coming off the bench

It was an example of the importance of the Saints fly-half, who had played almost every game in the double-winning season and was star man in both the Challenge Cup and Premiership final victories.

Ford very rarely shines against Saints, usually being ground down by Jim Mallinder’s men, and that has contributed to the recent history in a run that had seen Bath fail to win in Northampton since April, 2000.

But with Myler on the bench, Ford was the more senior fly-half on the field, and he showed it, even winning the man of the match award at the Gardens.

It is not often an opposition player claims the accolade, but that was a sign of Ford’s contribution and the lack of one from the majority of the home team.

Saints had the quality on the field to get the win and when you glanced at the teamsheet you couldn’t help but feel confident that the home team would pick up the points.

They had a strong pack, which included new signing Louis Picamoles, and a really strong set of replacements, including the likes of Teimana Harrison, George North and Myler.

Kahn Fotuali'i enjoyed a winning return to Franklin's Gardens

Kahn Fotuali'i enjoyed a winning return to Franklin's Gardens

But by the time most of the bench came into the game, Saints were slipping towards defeat.

And there was too much of a job to do by the time South African scrum-half Nic Groom came on to make an eye-catching impression on debut, scoring twice.

Saints could have completed a miracle comeback with a minute to go, but they summed up their afternoon by knocking the ball on near halfway.

The handling wasn’t accurate enough in tricky conditions and Bath, despite not having the likes of Anthony Watson, Francois Louw and Luke Charteris, had been far more streetwise.

For Saints, it was all a bit last season, with fans against watching another game in woeful weather and wondering why their side was struggling to break down a visiting team.

Bath didn’t look like scoring either, but they took their chances to keep the scoreboard ticking when they came.

And they surprised everyone by just how settled they looked, considering director of rugby Todd Blackadder only arrived at the club recently.

Blackadder’s cunning plan worked, while Jim Mallinder, starting his 10th season at Saints, suffered disappointment.

He will now have to pick his team up and will expect a big bounce-back win at Bristol on Sunday.

That would get the season up and running and give Saints some momentum going into a tricky run of games that includes Saracens, Wasps and Exeter.

Saints will play the last two of those at home and they will need to turn the tide in terms of buoying their fans for the season ahead.

Because at the moment, there still seems to be a hangover from a campaign in which the club finished outside the top four for the first time since 2009.

They need to banish thoughts of ‘new season, same Saints’ and instead make Franklin’s Gardens a fortress again.

Too many proud home records have been ripped up during the past year.

Too many parties have fallen flat.

Saints had the biggest party of them all not long after Bath won in Northampton back in 2000, because the men in green, black and gold went on to win the Heineken Cup.

But thoughts of more glory like that are currently a distant dream.

All that matters for Saints now is a win at Bristol next weekend.

How they rated...

BEN FODEN

An unfortunate start to the season for the full-back as, with Saints 6-0 down, he was forced off before half-time with an ankle injury... 6

KEN PISI

Couldn’t make any impact as Saints were suffocated by Bath, especially during the second half, giving wide men few chances to prosper... 5

GEORGE PISI

Walked off the field gingerly after putting in a few big hits, but he was unable to get his attacking game going... 5

LUTHER BURRELL

Led the team out on his 100th Saints appearance and while he started strongly, he was unable to make any real headway against a determined Bath team... 5

AHSEE TUALA

Switched to full-back after Foden was forced off, but couldn’t really gain Saints any ground, despite trying to with his booming boot... 5

HARRY MALLINDER

A tough afternoon for the youngster, who missed a couple of first-half penalties and couldn’t get control of the game... 5

LEE DICKSON

Tried to cajole his team-mates after they went behind, but was unable to get the desired spark from them and came off to be replaced by Groom with 14 minutes remaining... 5

ALEX WALLER

Not an easy afternoon for the prop, who was another who picked up a knock for his troubles... 5

DYLAN HARTLEY

Like Dickson, he tried to help rally the troops and he put his body on the line, but it wasn’t to be... 6

KIERAN BROOKES

Cut a frustrated figure after being replaced as he had tried to use his power to put Bath on the back foot, but they responded admirably... 5

COURTNEY LAWES

Tried to blast holes in Bath during the first half, but had to do more defending than attacking in the second period... 6

MICHAEL PATERSON

Has got his chance at the start of the campaign with Christian Day injured, but this wasn’t the start he would have hoped for as Saints fell to defeat... 5

TOM WOOD

Never gives any less than 100 per cent but it wasn’t to be enough as Bath ensured Saints’ stellar back row couldn’t dominate the game... 6

JAMIE GIBSON

One of last season’s most consistent performers, the flanker put a shift in but Saints were not as assured as they would have hoped... 5

LOUIS PICAMOLES

The standout Saints starter, the Frenchman showed his class with some big carries and also intelligently kept the ball in play on one occasion... 7

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

GEORGE NORTH (for Foden 38)

Didn’t play any minutes in pre-season and will still be getting up to speed, while this game was not the best to come into... 5

PAUL HILL (for Brookes 52)

Saints were on the back foot when he came on and there wasn’t too much the tighthead could do to turn the tide... 6

TEIMANA HARRISON (for Gibson 52)

Was man of the match in Saints’ win against Bath at the Gardens in April, earning a standing ovation, but he couldn’t be the hero here as his team had too much to do... 6

CHRON STAR MAN - George Ford (Bath)