Bath 19 Northampton 19: Bath’s semi-final spot in danger thanks to Myler
The Recreation Ground, rather sedate under normal circumstances, was something of a bear pit last night: the Bath captain Stuart Hooper was making his 200th league appearance, Nick Abendanon was bidding farewell to the old place…and there was the small matter of a Premiership semi-final shot at stake. Unfortunately for the West Countrymen, the emotional charge was not quite enough, and as a result, their play-off place is very much at risk.
Pandemonium reigned at the end. George Ford, the young England outside-half, had given the home side a three-point lead on 77 minutes with a sweetly-struck penalty from 45 metres. That, however, was rubbed out when Anthony Perenise, the Samoan prop, was spotted making an illicit hit on the Northampton hooker Mike Haywood – a television-driven call that allowed Stephen Myler to level it.
Even then, at the very last knockings, Bath thought they would have another chance to win it, but after another long debate via the big screen on the legality of a tackle by the Saints lock Courtney Lawes, the officials decided there was nothing to report and called it a day.
It is not often that Northampton are given a thorough roasting in the scrum, but Bath’s set-piece game was infinitely superior from the off and even though the West Countrymen lost two hookers to injury, their dominance in this crucial area showed no sign of diminishing. Indeed, they were courageous enough to reject the uncontested scrum option and continued with Nathan Catt, a prop, in the middle of the front row.
Their command at the scrum gave Ford the opportunity to cancel out Myler’s early penalty, and when the latter restored the visitors’ lead seven minutes from the break after the hard-working Dave Attwood was harshly whistled for his part in an aerial wrestling bout with his rival lock Samu Manoa, the argument was squared for a second time. This time, it was the result of a richly imaginative move: Ford delivered a cross-kick for the wing Anthony Watson, who picked the ball out of the gloaming with a majestic leap and forced the Northampton midfield defence into an offside position.
There was some beauty in the contest too, and it came from Ford. The outside-half missed a penalty shot three minutes after the restart after the England centre Luther Burrell had been penalised at a ruck, but after heavy-duty running from the No 8 Leroy Houston and another forthright contribution from Attwood, the Northampton defence had no answer to Ford’s low-slung scamper from a position 30 metres out. The extras were duly added and Bath had a lead to defend.
While they did not defend it for long – Myler’s lovely slip-pass created a try in the left corner for the busy left wing Jamie Elliott, followed by an equally impressive conversion, levelled things again – Ford nudged them ahead once more, hitting the spot with a tough right-sided penalty close to the hour mark. Yet still, they could not shake free of Myler, who replied in kind.
Scorers: Bath – Try: Ford. Conversion: Ford. Penalties: Ford 4. Northampton – Try: Elliott. Conversion: Myler. Penalties: Myler 4.
Bath: N Abendanon; A Watson (H Agulla 73), J Joseph, O Devoto (G Henson 71), M Banahan; G Ford, M Young (P Stringer 63); P James, R Webber (R Batty 23, N Catt 54), D Wilson (A Perenise 54), S Hooper (capt), D Attwood (D Day 71), C Fearns, G Mercer, L Houston.
Northampton: B Foden; J Elliott, G Pisi, L Burrell, K Pisi; S Myler, K Fotuali’i; A Waller (G Denman 71), R McMillan (M Haywood 54), S Ma’afu (T Mercey 54), S Manoa (J Craig 53), C Lawes, C Clark (P Dowson 54), T Wood (capt), S Dickinson.
Referee: M Carley (Kent).
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