Saints dampen Bath's spirits with gritty win

Northampton 16 Bath 6
Click to follow
The Independent Online

The weather dictated that there would be no cricket in Northampton yesterday, and there were those among the sell-out crowd at Franklin's Gardens who probably felt that there was very little rugby either.

What rugby there was came chiefly from Northampton, who consolidated third place in the Zurich Premiership after scoring the only try of a grim game.

That try came early in the second half after Bath failed to control the ball at a breakdown. Andrew Blowers snaffled it and Saints moved it, breaking through Bruce Reihana, who then found Ben Cohen - playing alongside the England No 9 Matt Dawson in the centre after a stomach bug had forced the Northampton head coach, Wayne Smith, into reshuffling his team at the last minute.

The England wing Cohen then slung out a wonderful pass to John Clarke on the left and the Northampton Academy player scorched away upfield, easily evading Alex Crockett's flailing attempt at a tackle and then out-running the lumbering hooker Lee Mears to the line, having covered fully 60 metres.

Thereafter it seemed that every time Clarke touched the ball he could do no wrong, be it kicking for position, handling, or defending, and he certainly showed why he was an ever-present in the England Under-21 team this season.

But overall it was poor fare. Rain sluiced down throughout and robbed the crowd of anything approaching spectacular.

Territorially, Bath dominated the first half, but failed to capitalise on their superiority. It also has to be said that Saints' defence was virtually impregnable throughout, the only points they conceded being two Chris Malone penalties in the first half.

In such conditions a high error count was always likely, but it was the Premiership leaders Bath who committed the majority. John Connolly, the Bath head coach, growled his disapproval afterwards: "Our performance in the first half cost us the game, and I would reckon our errors outnumbered theirs by three to one."

Bath took charge of the line-out pretty well throughout the game and it was the wasting of such advantage that irritated Connolly. The last straw for the Australian came in the 80th minute when a stray Bath hand was spotted at a ruck.

Another Paul Grayson penalty robbed Bath of a consolation point for finishing within seven points of their conquerors.

It was only the third time Bath have lost in the Premiership this season, but it is likely to prove a costly one. With the form team Wasps steaming up hard behind them it is looking increasingly as if Bath will be fighting for a play-off place.

Northampton: Try Clarke. Conversion Grayson. Penalties Grayson 3.

Bath: Penalties Malone 2.

Northampton: B Reihana (co-capt); J Clarke, B Cohen, M Dawson (A Vilk, 76), N Beal; P Grayson, M Robinson (J Howard, 72); C Budgen, S Thompson, T Taumoepeau (R Morris, 50), M Lord, M Connors, A Blowers (co-capt), G Seely (J Phillips, 67-75), D Fox.

Bath: M Perry; A Crockett, K Maggs, R Fleck, W Human; C Malone (O Barkley, 66), M Wood; D Flatman, J Humphreys (capt; L Mears, 49), D Bell (M Stevens, 49), S Borthwick, R Fidler (D Grewcock, 49), A Beattie, I Feaunati, M Lipman (J Scaysbrook, 77).

Referee: C White (Cheltenham).