Saints show steel as they go nine points clear

James Wilson scores a try in the corner during Saints' Premiership clash at Bath (pictures: Kirsty Edmonds)
James Wilson scores a try in the corner during Saints' Premiership clash at Bath (pictures: Kirsty Edmonds)

Saints bounced back brilliantly to beat Bath 21-13 and stretch their lead at the top of the Aviva Premiership table.

A first-minute score from wing Olly Woodburn, allied with five points from the boot of Tom Homer, had put Mike Ford’s men 10-0 up inside 25 minutes at The Rec.

Bath Rugby v Northampton Saints. Recreation Ground, Bath. Aviva Premiership. NNL-150221-164313009

Bath Rugby v Northampton Saints. Recreation Ground, Bath. Aviva Premiership. NNL-150221-164313009

But Saints showed their steel, scoring twice before the break, through James Wilson and Mike Haywood, and completing the win thanks to 11 points from fly-half Stephen Myler.

It was a real statement of intent from Jim Mallinder’s men, who now sit nine points clear of second-placed Bath at the league’s summit.

And they even managed to resist after George Pisi’s yellow card eight minutes from time, with Bath unable to narrow the eight-point gap before the end.

The west country outfit had not beaten Saints since February, 2011 when they routed Mallinder’s men 38-8 at The Rec, but they were given early hope of ending that hoodoo.

Bath Rugby v Northampton Saints. Recreation Ground, Bath. Aviva Premiership. NNL-150221-164438009

Bath Rugby v Northampton Saints. Recreation Ground, Bath. Aviva Premiership. NNL-150221-164438009

Jamie Elliott, who was superb throughout, somehow stopped Semesa Rokoduguni at the last, but the ball went right and Woodburn scored.

Full-back Homer added the extras to give his side an early cushion before his ambitious penalty attempt from inside his own half failed to find the target.

Saints were desperate for a foothold in the game, but their patient play wasn’t yielding the rewards they had hoped as Bath, backed by their vociferous home crowd, stood tall.

The home pack had started strongly, winning a couple of scrum penalties, and, from the second, Homer was able to extend his side’s lead to 10 points.

Bath Rugby v Northampton Saints. Recreation Ground, Bath. Aviva Premiership. NNL-150221-164330009

Bath Rugby v Northampton Saints. Recreation Ground, Bath. Aviva Premiership. NNL-150221-164330009

Saints needed a response and they finally found favour with the referee at the breakdown, as good work from Calum Clark earned a penalty.

But Myler’s penalty attempt was a poor one, extracting surprised cheers from the home support.

Undeterred, Saints kept up the pressure on their hosts and, finally, they forced their way over the line.

Tom Stephenson’s slick footwork released Wilson out wide and the Kiwi full-back just managed to stay in touch to ground the ball.

Bath Rugby v Northampton Saints. Recreation Ground, Bath. Aviva Premiership. NNL-150221-174340009

Bath Rugby v Northampton Saints. Recreation Ground, Bath. Aviva Premiership. NNL-150221-174340009

Myler fired the conversion to the right of the posts and Saints were soon forced to scramble to stop a Bath score after skipper Lee Dickson’s panicked clearance was charged down.

That was a rare spell of Bath pressure, with Saints impressing since shipping the early score, and the men in lime were soon at the home door again.

After Rob Webber overshot the lineout, Saints got into their stride, with a flowing team moving resulting in indefatigable hooker Haywood charging in for a score.

Myler finally rediscovered his kicking boots to add the extras, while Homer, whose ambition was such that you felt he might soon attempt a penalty from his own 22, missed from halfway.

Saints were eager to add to their advantage at the start of the second half and after Wilson had tested Bath with a neat grubber kick, Rokoduguni threw the ball away after taking it into touch, giving Myler another three points.

The fly-half, who had overcome his early wobbles, was at it again soon after, stretching his side’s lead to eight points.

Bath Rugby v Northampton Saints. Recreation Ground, Bath. Aviva Premiership. NNL-150221-174221009

Bath Rugby v Northampton Saints. Recreation Ground, Bath. Aviva Premiership. NNL-150221-174221009

Homer was having a mixed afternoon at the other end though, as he again failed with a long-range effort before finally grabbing a far easier three points.

Saints were still enjoying the lion’s share of possession, with the natives growing increasingly restless as Garner handed Myler another penalty chance, which he took.

Bath were then handed a sizeable advantage in their bid to battle back from eight points down as George Pisi took Rokoduguni in the air and was sent to the sin bin.

Homer’s kicking woes continued from the resulting penalty and the home side huffed and puffed but couldn’t blow the Saints door down.

Bath: Homer; Rokoduguni, Burgess, Eastmond, Woodburn; Devoto, Young (Stringer 60); James (Auterac 53), Webber (Batty 53), Thomas (Palma-Newport 75); Hooper (c), Day; Garvey (Faosiliva 53), Louw, Fearns (Houston 53).

Replacements not used: Jennings, Arscott.

Saints: Wilson; K Pisi, G Pisi, Stephenson, Elliott; Myler, Dickson (c) (Fotuali’i 60); A Waller (Corbisiero 50), Haywood, Denman (Mercey 68); Craig (Dowson 30), Day; Manoa, Clark, Dickinson.

Replacements not used: Williams, Harrison, Olver, Tuala.

Referee: Greg Garner

Bath Rugby v Northampton Saints. Recreation Ground, Bath. Aviva Premiership. NNL-150221-173905009

Bath Rugby v Northampton Saints. Recreation Ground, Bath. Aviva Premiership. NNL-150221-173905009

Bath Rugby v Northampton Saints. Recreation Ground, Bath. Aviva Premiership. NNL-150221-174112009

Bath Rugby v Northampton Saints. Recreation Ground, Bath. Aviva Premiership. NNL-150221-174112009