Northampton, then bottom-but-one in the table, spent Christmas wondering what life would be like in National League One, with trips to Rotherham, Exeter and Birmingham beckoning. This morning they are contemplating trips around Europe next season after booking themselves a place in the 2006-07 Heineken Cup.
They had to scramble to the victory that confirmed them in an unassailable sixth place in the Guinness Premiership. Three tries in nine minutes as the second half entered stoppage time - there was a total of 20 minutes extra time in the match - wiped out all Bristol's good work.
"I take the blame," said Richard Hill, the Bristol director of rugby. "I allowed myself to get sentimental when we were 16-0 ahead and took off players who were, deservedly, applauded as they left the field. I think the applause got to the rest of the guys and they thought it was party time.
"Northampton stayed focused and with them if they score once you can be sure they will score again."
Paul Grayson, Saints' coach, freely admitted: "We were garbage until the final 10 minutes and to be honest Bristol probably deserved to win. Instead we are in Europe and I am delighted."
It was not the greatest of games but Bristol made all the running. They also did all the passing, all the scrummaging and all the entertaining. But a telling fact of their season is that they have never scored four tries to earn a bonus point.
Saints displayed some good defensive work - especially late in the second half, when Bristol camped on their line but failed to turn all that pressure into points. "If we had scored from that position it would have been game over," said Hill.
As it was Steve Thompson, Sean Lamont and Ben Cohen overhauled Marko Stanojevic's try and Jason Strange's 11 points.
Bristol: Try Stanojevic; Conversion Strange; Penalties Strange 3. Northampton: Tries Thompson, Lamont, Cohen; Conversions Reihana 2.
Bristol: B Stortoni; L Robinson, R Higgitt (B Lima, 66), S Cox, M Stanojevic; J Strange, S Perry (D Gray, 80); D Hilton (A Clarke, 76), M Regan (N Clark, 76), D Crompton (M Irish, 68), M Sambucetti, R Winters, M Salter (capt; C Morgan, 80), C Short (Regan, 80), G Lewis (D Ward-Smith, 63).
Northampton: B Reihana (capt); S Lamont, J Clarke (J Rudd, 66), D Quinlan, B Cohen; C Spencer, M Robinson (J Howard, 61); T Smith, D Richmond (S Thompson, 40), P Barnard (C Budgen, 40), Damien Browne (D Gerard, 72), M Lord, P Tupai (D Fox, 56), S Harding, Daniel Browne.
Referee: W Barnes (Surrey).Reuse content