Saints finish top of Premiership table despite Bath defeat as Saracens semi-final awaits

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Saints finished top of the Gallagher Premiership table for only the second time despite a sizeable final-day defeat at Bath.

Phil Dowson's side shipped six tries as they were beaten 43-12 at a jubilant Rec, but Sale Sharks' win at Saracens meant the loss didn't matter in the bid to finish first.

Saints will now face Saracens in the play-off semi-final at cinch Stadium at Franklin's Gardens on Friday, May 31, the 10-year anniversary of the Premiership title triumph against the same side at Twickenham.

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Mark McCall's men finished fourth in the standings, with Bath second and Sale third.

Will Muir scored for Saints (photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)Will Muir scored for Saints (photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
Will Muir scored for Saints (photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Bath had targeted a bonus-point win against Saints, and that was exactly what they got on a day when they pulled well clear during the second period.

Saints had opted to make 13 changes to the team that thrashed Gloucester 90-0 seven days earlier, and Dowson's men were under early pressure at The Rec.

Tom James was bundled back over his own line, earning Bath a five-metre scrum, and they used it to apply the squeeze, allowing No.8 Josh Bayliss to pick up and score.

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Finn Russell converted to make it 7-0, and Bath doubled their lead on 15 minutes as Will Muir flew through a gap to score.

Saints tried to respond with a first venture into the home 22, but a rushed piece of attacking play saw a knock-on in front of the posts.

Bath were still under pressure though as they conceded a penalty at their own scrum, but the home side did well to hold up Burger Odendaal after he crashed over the line.

Saints were struggling to get a foothold in the game, while Bath were seemingly taking points from every venture into away territory.

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Russell extended the lead with a penalty, but Saints finally managed to piece together some real pressure in the period before the break.

Bath were resisting but conceding plenty of penalties, and the hosts were a man down when full-back Matt Gallagher was sin-binned for a deliberate knock-on out wide.

Saints took advantage, scoring a deserved try as they worked the ball for James Ramm to go over.

Rory Hutchinson missed the conversion to leave the deficit at 12 points at the end of the first half.

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Saints would have hoped to make more inroads against the 14 men early in the second period, but it was Bath who came out firing.

Saints failed to deal with a high ball and then conceded a penalty, giving Russell the chance to kick to the corner and the Bath pack the opportunity to force Tom Dunn over the line.

Russell converted to make it 22-5 and Bath were soon sensing a bonus-point score as they piled forward again, only to be thwarted by a knock-on with the line in sight.

Sam Graham made a brilliant break from inside the 22 to relieve some pressure on Saints, but Bath had their bonus point when Ben Spencer intercepted a Hutchinson pass and raced in from inside his own half to score.

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Russell converted to make it 31-5 and Saints continued to turn to their bench as they replaced men who they will want to feature in the play-off semi-final.

Bath sent on Alfie Barbeary at No.8, and he scored with his first touch, breaking away from a maul to dive over.

Spencer converted and Bath were flying, scoring again soon after as Muir flew down the left and galloped over the line.

Saints well well and truly sunk at 43-5 down and though they tried to issue a response against a Bath side who had taken off many of their stars, there was little away momentum.

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The home fans were enjoying every loss of possession from the black, green and gold, who had a big chance when Archie McParland went flying clear, but Bath did well to scramble to stop the scrum-half just short of the line.

Saints did have their try a minute from the end though as Paul Hill's fantastic offload opened the door for a flying finish from Tom Seabrook out wide.

Charlie Savala added the extras with aplomb as Saints at least gave the travelling fans something to shout about in the closing stages.

Bath: Gallagher; Cokanasiga, Lawrence, Redpath, Muir; Russell (Bailey 59), Spencer (c) (Schreuder 63); Obano (Schoeman 58), Dunn (Annett 58), Du Toit (Stuart 58); Roux (Stooke 58), Ewels; Hill, Underhill (Reid 65), Bayliss (Barbeary 62).

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Saints: Ramm; Seabrook, Litchfield, Odendaal (Thame 55), Sleightholme (Savala 63); Hutchinson, James (McParland 55); Iyogun (Haffar 52), S Matavesi (R Smith 52), Millar Mills (Hill 52); Mayanavanua (Munga 52), Lockett; Scott-Young, Ludlam (c) (Pearson 55), Graham.

Referee: Christophe Ridley

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