If the last couple of weeks have been something of a nightmare for Saints, virtually the whole season has for Bristol. The West Country side are languishing in the relegation departure lounge and their destiny would appear to be in their own hands as three of the Shoguns' remaining matches are against the other strugglers.
Bristol fell apart in the second half at Franklin's Gardens last night, their resolution and their discipline in tatters. Saints, with a Heineken Cup place as their target, move up to fifth ahead of Leeds on points difference.
Northampton began all verve and vigour. Although they left three of England's Grand Slam finest on the bench and were without the ill Paul Grayson, it looked as if none of the quartet would be needed, but the early pressure earned no reward. Saints lost an attacking line-out on their own throw and then Brendon Daniel made a try-saving tackle on Steve Williams, which was the signal for Bristol to raise their game and they worked their way downfield to shunt Garath Archer over for the opening try. Northampton's riposte was immediate. Oriol Ripol sped through the cover for a stunning try, which Bruce Reihana converted to tie the scores.
With both sets of forwards breaching the rubicon which separates the inadvisable from the unacceptable, and warnings being dished out in handfuls by the referee Dave Pearson, something had to give when his patience had reached breaking point. Bristol were relieved that Archer did not receive his marching orders; instead it was Rob Hunter who saw yellow.
Within a minute of the restart, Archer was sent to the sin-bin and his dismissal proved extremely costly, as Mark Tucker and Reihana romped in for tries to make it 21-13. For Bristol, leading at the break, it only got worse. Matt Salter was shown the yellow card and, while he was serving his time, Darren Fox claimed two tries to add to Jon Sleightholme's touchdown.
Northampton: Tries Fox 2; Sleightholme, Ripol, Tucker, Reihana. Conversions Reihana 5. Penalty Reihana. Bristol: Try Archer. Conversion Drahm. Penalties Drahm 2.
Northampton: B Reihana; J Sleightholme (B Cohen 19-30), M Tucker, J Leslie (capt; P Jorgensen, 58), O Ripol; J Brooks, I Vass (M Dawson, 50); T Smith (R Morris, 61), D Richmond (S Thompson, 22-32), R Morris (M Stewart, h-t), J Phillips (R Hunter, 31), S Williams (G Seely, 41-44; B Cohen, 71), D Fox, B Pountney (G Seely, 64), A Blowers.
Bristol: L Best; B Daniel (M Carrington, 73), A Higgins (J Williams, 63), D Gibson, P Christophers; S Drahm, A Pichot; A Sheridan, S Nelson, R Skuse, G Archer (capt), A Brown, M Salter (S Morgan, 73), M Lipman (C Short, 51), R Oakley.
Referee: D Pearson (Ashington, Northumberland).
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