Northampton Saints vs Bath match report: Saints display strength in depth

Northampton 31 Bath 24: Northampton captain Dylan Hartley hails his squad’s resilience as they make light of injuries to bring Bath back down to earth

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The Independent Online

Northampton Saints came through a test of the depth of their squad, with injuries afflicting three of their England forwards, as the champions withstood a withering late comeback by Bath to leapfrog their opponents into second place in the Premiership table.

Bath had won a few friends in this part of the East Midlands with their 45-0 thrashing of Northampton’s local rivals Leicester last weekend but the Saints were never going to roll over as easily, even after Courtney Lawes and Tom Wood were withdrawn late from the starting line-up, with back and shoulder problems respectively. And a third member of the England contingent, the loose-head prop Alex Corbisiero, was forced off early in the second half after needing treatment to his left shoulder. All three, though, should be available to play at London Irish next Saturday.

But a fourth, Saints’ captain  Dylan Hartley emerged triumphant after making a crucial contribution to prevent a Bath try, getting his body under Alafoti Fa’osiliva’s drive for the line with four minutes left when Northampton were clinging to a seven-point lead.

“Bath have talked about being contenders this season and they proved they are today,” said Hartley, whose team had led 31-10 and bagged a four-try bonus point by the 54th minute. “But we had big names missing and we showed we had real depth.” As for his try-saving plunge, Hartley half-joked: “The ball was exposed, you have to get in there and luckily I’ve got the depth of midriff to do it. ”

 

Fa’osiliva did well for Bath who were missing their first-choice back- rowers Carl Fearns and Francois Louw against opponents they have not beaten here since April 2003, or anywhere in the Premiership in three and a half years. A stream of penalties at the scrums in the first half were evenly distributed but the intuitive sense was that Corbisiero, Hartley and Salesi Ma’afu in the home front-row were having the better of it.

They also had the boost of a 14-point lead within the opening 15 minutes. Ben Foden’s blistering break led to Bath’s Luke Arscott  illegally knocking down a pass from Kahn Fotuali’i aimed at fly-half Steve Myler. Referee Tim Wigglesworth decided it merited a penalty try, which was converted by Myler. With Arscott in the sin- bin, three missed tackles by Bath allowed George Pisi and Luther Burrell to  work flanker Calum Clark over for an easy try.

Two England assistant coaches Andy Farrell and Graham Rowntree were here to consider international candidates, and  Hartley and Rob Webber was one tasty battle within the war, with the Bath No 2’s ball-carrying catching the eye. The snazziest running came in the centres from Jonathan Joseph as Bath cut the Northampton lead to 17-10 by half-time. Webber battered across the gainline  and George Ford set up prop Davey Wilson for a try any back would have been pleased with.

Ford’s conversion and 35-metre penalty goal sandwiched a penalty by Myler, but Saints’ pivot also pushed a head-on attempt wide in the 38th minute.

Northampton took control with their third and fourth tries. One dart by Foden after 10 Northampton phases put lock Christian Day in at the left corner, then Foden was at the heart of a raid by Saints from their own half, linking with George North and Burrell to make a try for George Pisi. Myler’s pair of touchline conversions had Saints 31-10 up. But not quite home free when Gavin Henson, on for Arscott, exploited a gap on the short side and fed a no-look scoring pass to Olly Woodburn, with Ford converting.

A big drive from a line-out caught by Dave Attwood brought a try for replacement prop Nick Auterac but Attwood’s last-ditch charge was fumbled and Saints held on.

Line-ups:

Northampton Saints: B Foden (J Wilson 66); K Pisi, G Pisi, L Burrell, G North; S Myler, K Fotuali’i (L Dickson 55); A Corbisiero, (A Waller 51) D Hartley (capt), S Ma’afu (G Denman 61), J Craig (T Harrison 76), C Day, C Clark, J Fisher, S Manoa (P Dowson 68).

Bath: L Arscott (G Henson 55); S Rokoduguni, J Joseph (D Devoto 63), K Eastmond (Joseph 76), O Woodburn; G Ford, C Cook (P Stringer 52); P James (N Auterac 55), R Webber, (T Dunn 55),  D Wilson (H Thomas 50), S Hooper (capt, D Day 55)), D Attwood, A Fa’osiliva, G Mercer, L Houston.

Referee: T Wigglesworth (Yorkshire).

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