At half-time, the Vocal Works Gospel Choir sought to “put a smile upon somebody’s face”. Understandably, given the turgid fare on offer from two underachieving clubs in the first 40 minutes, but there was no reason by the end for glee from Bath. The title challengers of last season have dropped so far from that level that even George Ford, that model of consistency, fell well below his usual standards. True, there was greater ambition after the break by the home side in front of a record crowd but it came amid an incoherence that couldn’t be blamed on a tricky, crossfield wind.
So Northampton maintained the grip in the Premiership over Bath they have held since 2011. This was their ninth consecutive win and it came courtesy of JJ Hanrahan’s boot: the Irishman kicked his second penalty with nine minutes remaining, leaving Mike Ford, Bath’s director of rugby, to complain bitterly that most of the time remaining was taken up with reset scrums. “They’re just a lottery, referees referee scrums and they don’t know what’s going on,” Ford said. “They’re ruining the game, we need the ball in play, we need to fix scrums.”
Northampton would not necessarily agree. Missing two-thirds of their first-choice pack, they would have enjoyed the sight of their tight five destroying Bath at the first four scrums, from the third of which Hanrahan kicked the only points of the first half and brought about a yellow card for Henry Thomas. It is their misfortune that Alex Corbisiero, the England tighthead, faces yet another operation on Tuesday to clean out knee damage which makes him an unlikely contender for the 2016 Six Nations.
Yet the pendulum swung in the second half and Bath’s pack appeared to have the ascendancy. Scrum penalties went their way, their lineout (with Charlie Ewels a late replacement when Dave Attwood pulled out with a sore neck) was sound and a back-line with Jonathan Joseph recovered from a pectoral injury sooner than expected showed more bite.
But Ford, dithering uncharacteristically after kicking his side level, saw Luther Burrell pick off his pass to score from 15 metres. Ford kicked a long penalty before Anthony Watson and Joseph made space for Semesa Rokoduguni to cross in the corner, but Hanrahan – from a scrum penalty – made them pay.
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