Saints heap woe on Bristol
January 3, 2009
Northampton's Ben Foden breaches the Bristol defence before racing away to score a try
© Getty Images
Northampton Saints maintained their unbeaten Guinness Premiership home record with a 30-8 victory over Bristol at Franklin's Gardens.
Northampton trio Paul Diggin, Ben Foden and Jon Clarke lit up a dour match with excellent tries as the Saints scored their fourth victory over the west country side this season following two wins in the European Challenge Cup and one in the Anglo-Welsh Cup. But the result was a major setback for Bristol who had targeted the game for some much-needed points after winning their home Premiership clash between the two sides.
With fly-half Stephen Myler kicking their other 15 points, victory prevented Northampton, whose away form has not matched their performances at home, from being dragged into relegation trouble. Their chairman Keith Barwell had labelled the fixture "a must-win match" and the pressure on both clubs was evident in a nervy, disjointed first half where neither side really threatened to score a try until Diggin struck.
Myler missed a straightforward penalty for Northampton in the fourth minute and Barnes was wide with a long-range kick for Bristol in the 21st. Former England scrum-half Shaun Perry, skippering the visitors in the absence of the injured Joe El Abd, and fly-half Ed Barnes worked hard to try and get their side moving but it was Northampton who struck the first blow in the 29th minute.
Hooker Dylan Hartley, watched by England scrum coach Graham Rowntree, had a try disallowed when referee Tim Wigglesworth brought him back for a disputed earlier knock-on. But Bristol were penalised at the resulting scrum and Myler kicked Northampton ahead with a more difficult penalty than the earlier one he had missed.
Three minutes later Diggin produced an excellent burst of speed to exploit weaknesses in the Bristol defence and score the opening try for Northampton. Scrum-half Lee Dickson fed Foden, preferred at fullback with club captain Bruce Reihana consigned to the bench, showed fast hands to release Diggin who showed a clean pair of heels on his 50 metre dash to the line after centre Luke Eves missed his tackle.
Myler increased the lead to 13-0 with a 37th minute after Perry, going for an ambitious interception, was somewhat harshly punished for a deliberate knock-on. Hartley, up against England's 2007 Rugby World Cup hooker Mark Regan, did his international prospects no harm as he attempts a Six Nations challenge to Bath's current England No.1 Lee Mears, who was preferred ahead of the Northampton man for the autumn internationals.
Myler's third penalty, in the 48th minute, put Northampton 16 points clear.
Bristol were caught offside when Scotland winger Sean Lamont took a tap penalty after being the victim of a high tackle by former Wales second row man Robert Sidoli and the former rugby league fly-half confidently booted over the kick from 40-plus metres.
The latest blow seemed to spark the visitors to life and the pressure paid off when Saints conceded a penalty in front of their own posts and Barnes finally opened Bristol's account in the 50th minute. They spurned a penalty opportunity in favour of a lineout in the corner before replacement Nathan Brew - brother of Neil - was held up inches short of the line but an infringement at the resulting ruck cost Bristol their momentum.
Saints retaliated to wrap up the match when Foden broke three tackles on a tremendous 40-metre diagonal run through the Bristol defence to touch down near the posts in the 73rd minute, with Myler converting. They struck again in the final minute when poor defending allowed centre Clarke in for their third try, with Myler again adding the kick but, with seconds remaining, always-lively left-wing David Lemi kicked ahead and won the chase for a consolation try.
Bristol head coach Richard Hill admitted it could be a bleak 2009 for his bottom-of-the-table side. "On that performance we are going to struggle. We have been playing to about 50% of our potential and we are going to have to start to play better at some stage. We keep thinking the next game we will start to play a bit better and we have to. We've shown glimpses of it but until we make a significant improvement and get to where we know we can play it's going to be a very worrying second half of the season.
"I just know how well we can play and at the moment we're not transferring the training work we do on to the pitch. I'm looking at how we planned to play and I genuinely couldn't see anything we practised to do against Northampton. There's a whole host of things we said we were going to do and we didn't do it. It gets very frustrating."
To add to Hill's woes, he expects former England hooker Mark Regan to be ruled out for between four and six weeks after pulling a calf muscle.
Northampton director of rugby Jim Mallinder offered special praise for hooker Dylan Hartley who forwarded his England claims with a strong performance. "Dylan is maturing. He is working hard on his set-piece and his mental skills. It was a big challenge for him today against Mark [Regan] and I thought he came through it well."
Northampton: Foden, Diggin, Clarke, Downey, Lamont, Myler, Dickson, Tonga'uiha, Hartley, Murray, Fernandez Lobbe, Kruger, Easter, S Gray, Wilson.
Replacements: Mayor for Diggin (76), Spencer for Downey (74), Reihana for Dickson (76), Day for Fernandez Lobbe (74). Not Used: Shields, Smith, Hopley.
Bristol:L Arscott, Robinson, N. Brew, Eves, Lemi, Barnes, Perry, Irish, Regan, Crompton, Winters, Sidoli, Budgett, To'oala, Ward-Smith.
Replacements: N. Brew for Eves (61), Linklater for Regan (65), Thompson for Crompton (74), Sambucetti for Winters (61), Salter for Sidoli (69). Not Used: Beveridge, Ashwin.
Ref: Tim Wigglesworth (RFU)
"I had a couple of injuries before but this was different." Tom Hamilton talks to Scott Williams about the O'Driscoll tackle, Wales and Scarlets
"To be the best it's not about the flash stuff, it's actually about everything done at a very high level." Tom Hamilton on the England squad
Huw Richards rewinds to 1864 to mark the birth of Welsh rugby's first authentic star - Arthur Gould
Michael Cheika has succeeded in becoming the Wallabies coach under his own terms, writes Greg Growden