Three from three: Northampton have the wind in their sails. Last season's Premiership semi-finalists recovered from two unpleasant shocks – a first-minute sucker-punch try from the outstanding Bath full-back Nick Abendanon, who cottoned onto a clever toe-poke from Tom Biggs down the left – and the sight of their own No 15 Ben Foden being carted off with a nasty-looking ankle injury, to chisel out a valuable victory over another of the tournament's unbeaten sides. This result could count for something come the end of the campaign.
Bath had spent a good deal of the four training days leading into the game working out ways of drawing the sting from the visiting scrum. A fat lot of good it did them. Stephen Myler chipped over a penalty from the first driving maul of the contest, and another from one of the initial set-pieces.
The West Countrymen were also tested by Northampton's physicality: Phil Dowson, the England back-rower, was in full warpaint – his early scuffle with the equally aggressive Carl Fearns might have been really lively had the two of them not been separated by colleagues – and if the Lions hooker Lee Mears recovers quickly from the full-on smash-tackle he received from Samu Manoa towards the end of the first quarter, his ribs must be made of pig-iron.
For all Bath's attempts to build pressure through keeping the ball in hand and stretching Northampton across the width of the field, they were frequently undone at close quarters. Myler reached the break with four penalties to his name – enough to send his side in with 12-8 lead. The home team had only a single Olly Barkley penalty to add to Abendanon's strike, although the outside-half would have reduced the arrears to a single point had he not struck the left upright from a highly kickable position in first-half overtime.
After the break, Northampton turned the screw: another commanding scrum, another Myler penalty to send them sailing into clear water. But shortly after losing Foden, who failed to rise after a hard tackle from Tom Biggs, they lost three points of their lead to Barkley, who hit the spot after the visiting backs were caught offside from Tom May's charged-down clearance. Suddenly, there was new life in the contest.
Barkley soon chipped over another three-pointer, from a scrum penalty of all things, and for a while, the home side had the bit between their teeth. But the outside-half's tactical kicking had rarely been up to the mark and when Manoa charged him down and linked with Tom Wood to earn an attacking scrum, Northampton sensed the kill. Sure enough, May obliged with a drop goal in front of the sticks.
Now in need of a try to win it, Bath went for the kitchen-sink option in the hope that strong-running forwards like Nathan Catt and Dominic Day would create enough space for Abendanon to work a little tap dancer's magic. The full-back did indeed make inroads, but Barkley marginally overcooked his late grubber close to the Northampton line and the ball ran an agonising yard too far for Ross Batty on the follow-up.
Even then, there was a scare for the visitors: Dowson, under the mistaken impression that time was up, kicked the ball dead a few seconds too early. No matter. The Northampton scrum did the trick one last time and snuffed out Bath for good.
Scorers: Bath: Try Abendanon. Penalties Barkley 3. Northampton: Penalties Myler 5. Drop goal May.
Bath: N Abendanon; K Eastmond, D Hipkiss, B Williams (J Cuthbert 71), T Biggs; O Barkley, M Claassens; P James (N Catt 61), L Mears (R Batty 61), D Wilson (A Perenise 61), S Hooper (capt, D Attwood h-t), D Day, S Taylor (J Ovens 73), C Fearns, B Skirving.
Northampton: B Foden (T May 45); K Pisi, D Waldouck, L Burrell, V Artemyev; S Myler, L Dickson; S Tonga'uiha (A Waller 69), D Hartley (capt, M Haywood 71), T Mercey (P Doran-Jones 37), S Manoa, C Day (M Sorenson 62), P Dowson, T Wood, R Oakley (C Lawes 55) Referee: A Small (RFU).Reuse content