Northampton Saints 14 Bristol Bears 20: Tom Vickers' review and player ratings

On a weekend when Storm Dennis dominated the headlines, lightning struck for the second time at Franklin's Gardens.

By Tom Vickers
Monday, 17th February 2020, 12:33 pm
Updated Monday, 17th February 2020, 12:35 pm
Rory Hutchinson was sin-binned for a high tackle on Joe Joyce
Rory Hutchinson was sin-binned for a high tackle on Joe Joyce

Bristol Bears, just as London Irish did late last month, mounted a second-half fightback to leave Saints shell-shocked.

It was another disappointing day that added more misery to the events of January 24, when Irish scored twice in the final seven minutes to snatch a surprise success in Northampton.

And again Saints were left to rue their own failure to put a game to bed.

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At 14-0 up, they had the chance to really turn the screw.

But, just as against Irish, when they were 16-8 ahead, they let the game slip from their grasp.

It was agonising to watch, made even more painful by the fact that, unlike against Irish, they still had time to salvage the situation after going behind.

They huffed and puffed for the final 15 minutes but they were unable to blow the Bristol door down.

Mitch Eadie took on the club he will be moving to this summer

To their credit, Bristol, as Irish did, defended resolutely, shutting down the wide channels quickly and snuffing out the likes of Taqele Naiyaravoro and Rory Hutchinson.

And Saints, who looked so dangerous so often earlier in the season, seemed to run out of ideas.

It didn't help that they were hit by more injuries, depriving them of the freshness they desired as the likes of Lewis Bean and Owen Franks had to play far more minutes than planned.

But it wasn't all about tiredness, it was about composure, too.

James Fish came off the bench for Saints

Saints pursued the try that would have put the game beyond reach, but in doing so, they found themselves vulnerable on the counter-attack.

And two sucker punches in the space of as many minutes proved to be their undoing.

In a strange game, it often seemed like the team doing the defending was the most dangerous.

Bristol, like Saints, possess a razor-sharp counter-attacking game and are capable of hurting the opposition from anywhere on the pitch.

Henry Purdy scored a key try for Bristol

And so it proved as two rapid breaks resulted in two devastating tries against Saints.

Hutchinson's yellow card for a high tackle in the 50th minute didn't help, but it wasn't the main reason for the defeat.

Because for most of the time the Scotland centre was off the field, Saints played the game in Bristol territory.

That was until just before Hutchinson returned, when half-time replacement Henry Purdy pounced to score.

Saints were then behind in the blink of an eye as Lewis Thiede added another try to his team's tally and they went 17-14 up.

Suddenly, it was Bristol who were in no hurry at scrum time as they let the clock tick down to celebrate a win after what their boss Pat Lam described as an 'awful' display.

That will only exacerbate Saints' pain.

Because they know that although London Irish and Bristol defended strongly against them at times, in attack the opposition didn't have to work too hard for their scores.

Irish and Bristol will play far better in games this season and lose.

But the fact they came to the Gardens and won without delivering what you would consider a sensational showing adds more fuel to Saints' frustration.

The two defeats have been damaging, but just how problematic they are will be decided during the next few weeks.

If Saints can bounce back against the likes of Exeter and Saracens in the next couple of matches, they can level things up a bit.

Shock wins would make up for shock defeats.

But those matches are massive challenges and Saints know they have not been at their best for some time now.

Assistant coach Matt Ferguson talked last week about how the team had been 'two or three per cent' off in several areas but still won most of their games in January.

But they have not been winning them in recent weeks.

And unless they find ways to improve dramatically, this dry spell during the Six Nations will go on.

The fixtures have not been too kind, pairing Saints with teams who do not lose many players, if any, to international action.

And the ever-growing injury list at the Gardens is another major issue, with the team so short in the second row and back row.

But, as boss Chris Boyd said after the Bristol game, teams have to find a way to come through those tricky spells and the squad has to be strong enough to cope.

Saints haven't been able to do it of late and the credit their had built up in their Premiership bank is starting to run low.

If they are not careful, they will soon find themselves in their overdraft, playing catch-up in the pursuit of the top-two spot they currently hold.

A big pay day is needed in the next two weeks, and jobs don't come much bigger than the one at Sandy Park this Sunday.

How they rated...

HARRY MALLINDER

One of Saints' brightest sparks on the day, the full-back looked lively and etched his name on the scoresheet during the first half... 7

TOM COLLINS

Couldn't really get in the game as his space and time on the ball was limited well by Bristol, who never gave him a sniff... 5.5

MATT PROCTOR

An unusually quiet day for the centre, who was making his return from injury after more than a month out... 5.5

RORY HUTCHINSON

Not an easy afternoon for the Scotland ace as he was yellow carded for a high tackle on Joe Joyce and found himself in trouble for Bristol's second score, but he did set up Mallinder's try... 5

TAQELE NAIYARAVORO

Was always hungry for work, frantically trying to break Bristol down, but his ball security was lacking as Bristol forced him to knock on a few times... 6

JAMES GRAYSON

Kicked well in tricky conditions and stood tall to make some decent tackles defensively, but it was a tough day for half-backs... 5.5

COBUS REINACH

Often so electric, the scrum-half was strangely muted as Bristol shut him down quickly, but he did make some big tackles... 5.5

ALEX WALLER

Put in a good shift for his team but referee Tom Foley penalised the prop on a couple of occasions... 6

MIKE HAYWOOD

Made some almighty tackles on far bigger players, felling the likes of Chris Vui and Nathan Hughes as he poured plenty into this performance... 7

OWEN FRANKS

Was forced to do two stints due to Ehren Painter's unfortunate injury, and didn't do too much wrong overall... 6

ALEX COLES

Showed some good footwork at times and continues to enhance his reputation as his responsibility at Saints grows... 6.5

ALEX MOON

Didn't have any time to make an impact as he was forced off after just eight minutes due to a knee injury

MITCH EADIE

Was playing against his former and future employers, but they handled the back row well, stopping him from having a big impact... 6

TOM WOOD

Worked hard for his team once again, carrying to gain some good metres and putting his body on the line in defence, but Bristol were a tough nut to crack... 6

TEIMANA HARRISON

Produced a moment of brilliance to help set up Saints' only try, carrying hard and offloading well, but will feel he should have stopped Bristol at source for one of their tries... 7

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

LEWIS BEAN (for Moon 8)

Missed a few tackles but put plenty of effort into the performance, desperately trying to get Saints on the front foot... 5.5

CHRON STAR MAN - Henry Purdy (Bristol)