Sir Ian McGeechan insisted afterwards that he had suffered greater traumas during his long and extraordinarily successful coaching career, and there was no arguing with him: after all, he had spent years trying to make the Scottish Rugby Union see sense, which is about as traumatic as it gets. Still, life in the West Country is no bowl of cherries. Bath have lost five of their last six Premiership games – or four straight, if you prefer – and should Worcester somehow find a way of beating Leicester at Sixways tomorrow, McGeechan's men will be one off the bottom at the halfway stage.
"You have your ups and downs in this game," the director of rugby acknowledged as he left Franklins Gardens, an old stamping ground of fond memory, with a big fat zero. If his side won the second half, they had lost the first so heavily that it scarcely mattered – and anyway, their one and only try, a pushover job from Francois Louw, was scored when Northampton were down to 13 men, having lost Samu Manoa and James Downey to the cooler virtually simultaneously. In truth, the Saints could have continued to head for the sin bin in Noah's Ark formation (two by two, for the Biblically challenged) and still not been under serious threat of defeat.
McGeechan went on to claim that he was encouraged by his players' attitude – "Once we started controlling the ball a little better, I thought we looked a different side," he said – but it was little more than spin. If he was not spitting tacks during the interval after watching his charges fall for the same Ryan Lamb chip-kick trick on half a dozen occasions, two of which led to tries for Tom Wood (nursed into space by the sharp-witted Samoan centre George Pisi) and Jamie Elliott (on hand to finish off Downey's surge to the line), he must be as much of a saint as he used to be a Saint.
Lamb played a blinder in the opening 40 minutes – "sublime" was the description of choice for the Midlanders' boss Jim Mallinder – and there might have been moments when Stuart Lancester and Graham Rowntree, members of England's caretaker coaching team for the forthcoming Six Nations Championship, wondered whether he was worth a place in their elite squad, due to be named on 11 January. Sadly for the outside-half, his rugby in the second 40 turned to... let's just say there are other s-words available. By the time Lancaster and Rowntree left their seats in the stand, Lamb had been withdrawn from the field.
In fairness, he was not the only curate's egg in human form. The Bath lock Dave Attwood, a genuine Test contender, also did eye-catching things, the majority of them in the wider channels that used to be, in days of yore, the exclusive preserve of specialist outside centres. It is no bad thing for a hulking great second-rower to put himself about in the broad acres, but Attwood spent too much time rumbling towards Northampton's wings and nowhere near enough mixing it with their forwards.
This is not, to say the very least, an accusation likely to be aimed at the supremely industrious Wood – or, indeed, his fellow workaholic flanker, the ever-combative Phil Dowson. It was the latter who registered the first of Northampton's three tries, finishing in the left corner after a damaging run from the impressive Russian wing Vasily Artemyev down the right. Wood claimed his score at the start of the second quarter and when Elliott crossed six minutes before the break, it seemed only a matter of time before the attacking bonus point was safe and secure.
It never materialised, partly because of the second-half yellow cards, partly because of Mallinder's tinkering off the bench and partly because the likes of Louw and Guy Mercer in the Bath back row decided that if defeat was inevitable, humiliation was not.
Scorers: Northampton: Tries Dowson, Wood, Elliott. Conversions Lamb 2. Penalty Lamb.
Bath: Tries Louw. Conversion Barkley. Penalties Barkley 2.
Northampton: B Foden; V Artemyev, G Pisi, J Downey, J Elliott; R Lamb (S Myler 74), L Dickson; S Tonga'uiha (A Waller 59), D Hartley (capt, M Haywood 74), P Doran-Jones (T Mercey 54), C Lawes (S Manoa 59), M Sorenson, P Dowson, T Wood, R Wilson.
Bath: N Abendanon; J Cuthbert, B Williams (N Scott 52), O Barkley (T Heathcote 68), M Banahan; S Donald, M Claassens; D Flatman (N Catt h-t), R Batty, D Wilson, D Attwood, R Caldwell, A Beattie (J Ovens 72), G Mercer, F Louw (capt).
Referee: D Rose (Devon).
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