Northampton Saints 43 Bath 25 match report: George North pulls out all stops to put Bath in their place

Northampton stall visitors’ title challenge as Myler states his case for place in England squad

Franklin's Gardens

This felt like a pivotal match in the Premiership, and not just because it marked the completion of the first half of regular-season fixtures. Bath’s burgeoning title challenge would have been headlined in bold if they had cracked Northampton’s unbeaten home league record. Instead it was the the second-placed Saints, with George North operating at full blast, who looked the more solid all-rounders.

There was a surfeit of fringe candidates for the revised England senior squad to be named by the head coach, Stuart Lancaster, on 9 January. If it is pace you want, then Bath’s Anthony Watson, Kyle Eastmond and Jonathan Joseph have it in spades, as evidenced in the try by Eastmond that helped them into a jolting lead of 13-0 after 16 minutes. Luther Burrell, the Saints centre, is a more prosaic threat: a hefty carrier but prone to problems with his offloads. Place kicking accuracy? The Premiership’s most princely percentage success rate belongs to Northampton’s Steve Myler, up in the mid-80s as the league’s best and significantly better than George Ford despite the Bath tyro being considered the better bet to step up from the second-tier Saxons.

North’s release to play for Wales outside the international window at the back end of last month cost Northampton a £60,000 fine for breaking Premiership policy but the big wing’s value to his English employers was monumentally clear from his rampant roaming in the midfield; North also terrorised Watson and Matt Banahan under the high ball. Jim Mallinder, the Saints’ director of rugby, revealed the fine actually covers the entire three years of North’s contract to summer 2016, and if it was necessary to keep the former Scarlet happy, then it was money well spent.

“George was outstanding, he got us going after that first 10 or 15 minutes, he got us on the front foot with his carrying and his high balls. It’s taken him a little bit of time but he showed why he’s a world class player,” Malinder said.

Bath’s newly rediscovered gristle – a run of 11 wins in all competitions was their best since 2003-04, when they finished top of the table and lost the play-off final – was bound to lead to some bristle. In Dylan Hartley, Calum Clark, Samu Manoa, Lawes and others, Northampton had the personnel to respond. Typical was Salesi Ma’afu giving Bath’s boisterous Springbok back-rower Francois Louw an open-handed clout. Leinster won 40-7 here three weeks ago but otherwise Franklin’s Gardens has been impregnable this season, with Saints scoring heavily.

Bath had a lovely start, with two penalties by Ford either side of a classic counter-attack try converted by Ford. A punt by Ken Pisi was caught by Paul James, the Bath loosehead prop, and Watson was launched through a gap before the full-back passed inside to Eastmond.

The referee, Luke Pearce, had already been substituted, needing three stitches in a cut forehead after Bath’s Anthony Perenise ran into him. Martin Fox stepped up from fourth-official duties and when the new referee showed James a yellow card for pulling down a maul in the red zone it was a big factor in Saints’ tries by Christian Day in the 21st minute and Pisi’s brother George in the 30th. The first from a line-out drive culminated in Hartley’s calm scoring pass; for the second a cross-kick by Kahn Fotuali’I to Jamie Elliott drew groans from the crowd but they should have had more faith. Elliott made the catch, Northampton recycled, and Bath’s wide defence cracked as it would do another three times.

By half-time Northampton were 21-13 ahead. Lawes’s stooped driving and Ken Pisi’s tidy straightening of the angle made Elliott’s finish a doddle. North was winded by a mistimed midair challenge from Horacio Agulla but the effect was temporary.

Myler collected his fourth conversion after Day’s second try, three minutes into the second half. Up the other end, Saints stood up and wheeled to deny Bath at a scrum but a penalty and a lineout drive led eventually to Rob Webber scoring, although Ford was unable to land the conversion. Manoa quickly replied for Northampton – Myler’s conversion attempt hit a post – but Bath came back, with a pushover try for the replacement No.8 Leroy Houston after Tom Collins had carried the ball over to thwart Joseph’s chip and chase.

Now eight points adrift, but within a try of two bonus points, how Bath wished their line-out was as reliable as their scrum. Webber’s replacement Eusebio Guinazu lost a throw on halfway and, duly ruffled, Bath conceded territory and a penalty that Myler, predictably, belted over from 40 metres out. North’s last-minute try, cleaning up a fumble by Bath in their 22, converted by Myler was a wonderfully apt conclusion.

“I’m proud because not many teams come here and score from a drive and score from a pushover scrum, but we seemed to lose the collisions that we’d been winning recently,” Mike Ford, the Bath head coach, said. “Northampton and Saracens are probably up above anyone else in the league at the moment. The challenge for us is to go to Leicester next week and go on another run.”

Northampton Saints: K Pisi (T Collins, 48); J Elliott, G Pisi (G Dickson, 75), L Burrell, G North; S Myler, K Fotuali’i (L Dickson, 62); A Waller (E Waller, 62), D Hartley (capt; M Haywood, 70), S Ma’afu (T Mercey, 53), C Lawes, C Day (S Dickinson, 70), C Clark (P Dowson, 64), T Wood, S Manoa.

Bath: A Watson; H Agulla (N Abendanon, 60), J Joseph, K Eastmond, M Banahan; G Ford, M Roberts (P Stringer, 47); P James (N Catt, 60), R Webber (E Guinazu,, 64), A Perenise (JP Orlandi 53), S Hooper (capt; D Day, 53), D Attwood, M Garvey, F Louw, C Fearns (Catt, 24-31, L Houston, 47).

Referee: L Pearce (Devon; M Fox (Leicestershire.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Gabriel Agbonlahor, Alexis Sanchez, Alan Pardew and Graziano Pelle
footballAfter QPR draw, follow Villa vs Arsenal, Newcastle vs Hull and Swansea vs Southampton
News
news
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
New Articles
i100... with this review
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
New Articles
i100
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam