Saints hold off Bath fightback
February 23, 2013
Jamie Elliott grabbed a brace for the Saints%]
Northampton edged Bath 25-23 at Franklin's Gardens on Saturday with Jamie Elliott's double helping them towards their win.
With 20 minutes to go, Northampton looked to be heading towards a routine home win at 20-9 in front, but young referee Luke Pearce sparked the game into life by awarding a controversial penalty try and when centre Semesa Rokoduguni followed up with an another, Bath led 23-20 with 10 minutes to go. But England discard Ben Foden sent Elliott over for his second try with seven minutes left and Northampton clung on for a vital win.
The hosts were lucky to lead at half-time with Bath having plenty of chances in their 22. With Dylan Hartley on England duty Mike Haywood took over at hooker and overshot his first lineout throw inside his own 22. It gave Bath enough pressure to win a penalty and take a fifth-minute 3-0 lead through Tom Heathcote. Stephen Myler brought the home side level five minutes later, but the home lineout was faltering badly, with Haywood missing his man four times in a row.
However, Northampton's first try came from Bath losing ball from their own lineout in their 22. Rob Webber's errant throw was scooped up by flanker Ben Nutley and when Northampton went wide Myler threw a big miss-pass to Elliott. It bounced and looked to have killed the winger's chances but the academy product gathered and powered through Nick Abendanon to score. Heathcote chipped over another three points to make it 8-6 after 28 minutes.
Saints were still without Brian Mujati - the South African tighthead - who has been out since Christmas with a calf injury, but with Tom Mercey in his place the pack still powered a penalty out of Bath which Myler slotted to make it 11-6. The Bath pack took over in the scrum. And when a good kick by experienced scrum-half Peter Stringer put Saints under all sorts of pressure in their 22, they turned over a scrum five metres out.
Ben Skirving picked up and looked certain to score but was somehow stopped on the line by Saints. A penalty from Heathcote at least meant the visitors earned something for their pressure. Their play deserved a try and they should have had one a minute before the break, but Abendanon missed rugby's equivalent of an open goal.
The Bath full-back knocked on when he only had to pick up the ball and dot down after Foden had been caught out of position by the Abendanon's kick from his 22. Abendanon missed another opportunity at the start the second half when Heathcote had dodged GJ Van Velze and sent Bath sprinting from 22 to 22 only for the Bath full-back to lose the ball forward trying to offload.
Another scrum penalty saw Myler make it 14-9, before replacement hooker Ross McMillan steadied the lineout for Saints to get their maul going and it earned two more penalties for Myler to make it 20-9. Then referee Pearce intervened, shocking the home crowd by awarding a penalty try to Bath to bring them back into the game.
The scrum collapsed with Bath motoring forward but it was seven metres from the line and it was the first time they had been penalised for the offence. Heathcote converted to make it 20-16 with 17 minutes left. Five minutes later Rokoduguni intercepted a pass on his 10m line and raced under the posts for Heathcote to convert and put Bath 23--20 in front.
But Saints re-took the lead with Elliott's second try with seven minutes left. A good chase and tackle from wing James Wilson saw Carl Fearns turned over on his 10m line and Saints powered forward to eventually find the overlap for Foden to send Elliott over. Myler's conversion hit the post, but Northampton clung on to win.
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After the game, Saints coach Alan Dickens praised Foden's performance. "Ben is better, he is looking after himself during the week and was good today. The backs looked better today, the pitch was hard, it was a good surface and that is what backs like. Ben is training, but he is looking after his ankle as well. He is looking good, but I think it is one of those injuries that has needed managing along the way."
And Dickens was also delighted with his team's overall performance. "We scored two good tries in the outside channels, so I am pleased," said Dickens. "But I was pleased with all the team. I am looking after the backs and the attack as well at the moment, but the defence was good as well. The desire and commitment from our lads to get back and make Bath make that extra pass or force a mistake was superb.
"I don't think the backs have been playing with a lack of confidence, but you go through periods in a season when it is tough, not just in terms with how we played, but with the conditions. Last week at Worcester we played the conditions, the backs put the forwards in the right part of the field and then they finished it off really.
"Jamie has done really well, he has definitely made that number 11 shirt his own. He works hard, he is committed as he is every single week and is definitely a plus for us. The crowd were immense and got behind us and I am sure it was a real lift to the lads on the pitch. It was a pivotal game, we identified that during the week, so it was great to win."
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