Bath 43 Northampton Saints 12: Tom Vickers' review and player ratings

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It wasn't the way Saints wanted to achieve it, but they achieved it nevertheless.

For the first time since 2015 - and only the second time in their history - the black, green and gold finished top of the Premiership standings.

And whatever you think about the performance at Bath on Saturday, nothing should take away from the achievement that has been delivered over 18 gruelling league games.

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Saints won 12 of them, including memorable successes against the likes of Saracens and Exeter Chiefs.

They showed character so often, and a fair bit of their trademark style, too.

And in the end, they finished up as the cream of the English crop over the course of a regular-season campaign.

Obviously, the work doesn't stop there.

In fact, it's only just beginning in terms of the knockout bid they hope can catapult them to glory 10 years on from the last time they claimed it.

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Saints were beaten at Bath (photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)Saints were beaten at Bath (photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
Saints were beaten at Bath (photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

But sitting at the summit going into the play-offs is still something to be celebrated.

That being said, there was little to celebrate at The Rec on Saturday as a heavily rotated Saints team were taken to task by a fired-up Bath outfit.

Phil Dowson's men would have expected to perform much better because, despite the mass changes, they still fielded a side full of quality.

That is didn't show on the day was, as the Saints boss said, 'disappointing and frustrating', but the match was more about getting minutes into players and taking minutes from others.

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There were questions as to why centre Rory Hutchinson had to start at 10, given more regular fly-half Charlie Savala was on the bench.

However, no disrespect to Savala, but Hutchinson is far more likely to be needed during the play-offs so Saints had to get him some game time as he hadn't played since March 22 due to a back problem.

It was a tough day for the 10 and the majority of his team-mates.

But even if Saints had sent their first-choice side, there was no guarantee they would emerge with a win given Bath had so much more to play for.

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And in the end, even if Saints had won, it wouldn't actually have mattered as Saracens' defeat to Sale Sharks left Dowson's side top of the table.

There was no point in risking many of the players who Saints simply can't do without come the knockout stages.

Say Courtney Lawes and Fin Smith start and then either get injured or sent off in a game that turns out not to matter – that would be a shambolic situation that could easily be avoided.

And Saints sensibly sidestepped it.

That they didn't produce a better performance was a shame, but it will quickly be forgotten with a much more significant encounter on the horizon.

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Saints will meet Saracens in the play-off semi-final at a sold-out cinch Stadium at Franklin's Gardens on Friday, May 31.

And it seems like fitting opposition as that day will be the 10th anniversary of when Saints beat Saracens at Twickenham to claim a first, and so far only, Premiership title.

Another aspect to it is that the last time Saints finished top of the table, back in 2015, they lost to Saracens in the play-off semi-final at the Gardens.

How desperate this black, green and gold group will be to avoid a repeat of that disappointment.

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They have beaten Saracens in both regular-season matches during this campaign but will know that will count for nothing when the teams renew their rivalry next week.

In both games, Saracens looked to be getting a stranglehold on proceedings, only to see Saints strike second-half blows that they couldn't come back from despite late scores.

But this is a Saracens side who thrives when knockout matches come around as they ooze experience of so many battles over the years.

They have often put a spanner in the works of Saints at semi-final time, and this black, green and gold team will be tasked with turning the tables.

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Just last year, they were outgunned by Saracens at StoneX Stadium on a day when Owen Farrell pulled the strings.

He will hope to do so again this year, though his opposite number, Fin Smith, has come on in leaps and bounds during the past year, and will hope to show that development on May 31.

It is a mouthwatering prospect, given another dimension by the fact that both sides have departing legends who will be so desperate to extend their stay for another game.

The past will count for little come that Friday night at the Gardens, but for now, Saints should take a moment to reflect on how far they have come during this campaign.

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Finishing top of the table is a fantastic first step, but now they know they must take more giant leaps forward if they are to achieve their ultimate ambition in the weeks ahead.

How they rated…

JAMES RAMM - made the occasional venture into Bath territory and dealt with pressure well before scoring Saints' first try... 6

TOM SEABROOK - scored one and set one up with a lovely delayed pass as he made a positive impact when he got the ball... 6

TOM LITCHFIELD - had a tricky day defensively as Will Muir caused Saints problems, but looked a force in attack when he got the chance... 5

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BURGER ODENDAAL - there were real worries when he went down with what appeared to be a knee injury but he was able continue. Did show his trademark physicality at times... 5

OLLIE SLEIGHTHOLME - wasn't really able to get into the game as Bath took control of the physical battle... 5

RORY HUTCHINSON - a tough day for the Scotland ace as he played in a position he often doesn't feature in against a fired-up home team who applied real pressure. Vital minutes in the bank though... 4

TOM JAMES - was left grounded before Bath's first try and wasn't quite as assured with his basics as he normally is... 4.5

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MANNY IYOGUN - gave away an avoidable penalty during the first period and couldn't quite have an influence on the match as he would have wanted... 4.5

SAM MATAVESI - plenty of energy from the hooker as he flew around trying to take Saints forward, but Bath's defence was largely strong... 5

ELLIOT MILLAR MILLS - one of the better performers on the day as he made his mark with turnovers and a scrum penalty... 6

TEMO MAYANAVANUA - tried to exert his physical influence on the game and did disrupt Joe Cokanasiga to stop him scoring... 5

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TOM LOCKETT - a steady showing from the young lock as he showcased some good handling and was secure at lineout time... 5.5

ANGUS SCOTT-YOUNG - never shies away from hard work but Bath got on top up front and gave the Saints forwards a tough day... 5

LEWIS LUDLAM - tried to make an impact with plenty of energy shown, but Bath stood up to him well... 5

SAM GRAHAM - made one fantastic break that caught the eye and also won a key turnover as he displayed his strength... 6

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

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ROBBIE SMITH (for Matavesi 52) - was under pressure at lineout time and couldn't quite steady the ship... 4.5

TAREK HAFFAR (for Iyogun 52) - flew around, using his power game to try to help Saints fight back, but Bath stood tall... 5

PAUL HILL (for Millar Mills 52) - provided the highlight of the game from a Saints perspective, delivering a stunning offload to set up Seabrook's try... 5.5

CHUNYA MUNGA (for Mayanavanua 52) - looked really eager to make an impression but it was a tough time to come into the game... 5

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TOM PEARSON (for Ludlam 55) - such a welcome sight to see him back on the field for the first time since March, and one turnover showed his ability at the breakdown... 5.5

ARCHIE MCPARLAND (for James 55) - tried to up the tempo and came close to scoring a try before Bath stopped him just short... 5

TOBY THAME (for Odendaal 55) - got a few chances to get his hands on the ball and it was good for the young centre to get some game time, despite the defeat... 5

CHRON STAR MAN - Will Muir (Bath)

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