It was a mild and pleasant afternoon on Saturday as Franklinâ€™s Gardens saw another sell out with 13,365 packing the stands. But the air was tinged with genuine sadness.
In memory and recognition of Luis Ghaut, the amazing thirteen year old Upton boy â€“ rugby player and Saints fan â€“ who sadly lost his battle with cancer this week, Saints players joined in one minuteâ€™s applause as Luisâ€™ inspirational and forever smiling face shone down at us from the big screen.
So on to the game and although Saints were missing Courtney Lawes and Tom Wood, it was a match the Saintsâ€™ players would devote to their hero, Luis Ghaut.
Bath were on a high after last week’s assured annihilation of Leicester Tigers and they were intent on stirring things up, which they certainly attempted to do in a nail-biting final ten minute whirlwind.
â€œI think we were pretty fortunate in the end that Dylan Hartley got under that last maul but we played some good rugby…â€Â said Jim Mallinder.
Fast out of the gate, it didn’t take long for fiery, fizzing and fleet of foot Ben Foden to make a break early doors, creating options for Kahn Fotuali’i. With a three man overlap, Saints looked sure to deliver the ball but Luke Arscott’s attempt at an interception prevented it. Maybe hard to gauge the intent but Tim Wigglesworth awarded a penalty try and delved into his pocket for a yellow. Arscott reflected in the sin bin and Stephen Myler converted.
Some promising drama and all under the ten minute mark.
Bath then took a bashing in the scrum. With several resets and Alex Corbisiero’s sheer domination, Northampton’s second try came in the corner as Calum Clark caught a long pass to breeze over, only eight minutes later. Myler converted perfectly.
But Bath bounced back.
Chris Cook threw down the gauntlet and directed Bath’s set piece brilliantly. This paved the way for the defiant Dave Wilson to bulldoze through the Saints defence, scoring twenty minutes in, George Ford confidently converting,14-7.
Bath were determined to spring back into shape but a lack of discipline in the scrum saw them penalised again, offering the home side another slice of satisfaction pie as Myler kicked the points.
Northampton accelerated off the green light on numerous occasions but they didn’t make life easy for themselves with a handful of lost possibilities. George Pisi managed to cut through the Bath defence like a knife through butter as the Gardens roared in excitement, but all to no avail. Pisi didn’t use his support players â€“ George North was there and waiting – a travesty of a missed opportunity. Off the second phase, there were options out wide that Saints just weren’t taking. I looked on in frustration as they seemed short sighted in parts against a well fortified Bath defence.
And then it came back, the fine form of the destructive Bath pack that took centre stage against Leicester. They became fresh and free-flowing and sprung animatedly into action on the attack. Quick paced, focussed and well drilled. It saw Saints penalised and Ford kicked true with seven minutes left to play in the first half.
However, all that effort seemed lost when Bath were penalised for not rolling away but luckily for the visitors, Myler’s kick went marginally wide. Missed opportunities for Northampton and missed tackles by Bath. How would the second half unfold?
Back out and Northampton looked ready to hit the demolition button. Determined Fotuali’i fed the forwards with a handful of ‘red’ balls into Bath’s 22. It was only a matter of time, after countless phases, before a driving surge put Christian Day in to touch down with Myler adding the points.
It appeared Northampton had finally found their rhythm. Catching the Bath defence off guard, a break by Luther Burrell four minutes later and a smooth offload to North enabled George Pisi to beat several tacklers to cross the whitewash. Myler superbly converted from the touch line.
But on the attack, Bath were still dangerous – and a sleeping Saints defence awoke to find Olly Woodburn scoring! Ford slotted the conversion with ease and there was still a quarter of the game left to play.Â
This was more like it!
You wouldn’t have known Bath were missing the likes of Carl Fearns, Francois Louw and Matt Garvey as they definitely did their damnedest to pack a punch. Their fierce and admirable ability was highlighted when a rolling maul off a 5 metre line out, saw Nick Auterac burrow over. Bath weren’t here to take hostages. Ford again reliably converted and it was toe to toe with ten minutes to play … tenterhooks and tense!Â 31-24
It was really going down to the wire and with Bath in the ascendency Ford kicked to the corner relentlessly. Then as the clock ticked down, a Bath rolling maul drove over the try line but despite several replays, the TMO was unable to see if anyone had scored. To my eye, it looked as though Dylan Hartley had stopped the grounding, so no try was awarded. Â But it was getting even more gripping.
It was back to the 5 metre line for a Bath scrum and with two resets it was an anxious waiting game for Northampton supporters. One try and conversion from Bath would see a draw. The visitors continued to pick and go but just couldn’t barge through the Saints solid defence and then they lost the ball forward and Tim Wigglesworth called time.
What a finish!Â
Relief for Northampton but all credit to Bath. You can’t fault their resilience and resolve.
Full Time: Northampton Saints 31-24 Bath
It was an energy-sapping day at the office for both sides in a match that overall showed a very high standard and intensity. Not the fast flowing rugby that’s pleasing to the eye but a game where both sides dug deep to fight until the very end.
It’s too early to talk about contenders for the Premiership title but what I witnessed on Saturday was two sides eager, talented and stimulated.
Bath came away with a losing bonus point and Mike Ford reflected on this after the game;
â€œ…I’m going to take that. Last year we came here and didn’t get a point but we’ve got to learn…â€
The Man of the Match award went to Saints skipper, Dylan Hartley, for leading from the front and courageously pulling his team through to victory.
After the game he told me;
â€œI’m really proud for what, for us as a squad has been a big week…off the field with Luis stuff going on in the background, I’m just really proud of everyone’s efforts today.â€
By Rhiannon Chandler-Day
You can see more from Rhiannon at: http://rhiannonsrugbyunionblog.blogspot.co.uk