Northampton Saints Anglo-Welsh Cup journey ended in a desperately close semi-final at Bath Rugby, with the hosts winning by the narrowest of margins.
The visitors trailed 10-0 early on but three Stephen Myler penalties closed the gap to just one point at the break.
And Saints’ No.10 was on target again to put his side ahead in the second half, but a red card offence for Teimana Harrison gave Bath the decisive penalty, with the hosts holding onto their slender advantage for the final few minutes.
The game kicked off in torrential conditions at the Rec. A high tackle from Saints gave Josh Lewis an early shot at goal from over 40 metres out, and an excellent kick in the conditions saw it clear the crossbar by inches to put the hosts 3-0 ahead.
Territory was at a premium in the rain, with both sides regularly opting to clear the ball long, but Saints were dealt an injury blow in the 13th minute as Heinrich Brüssow hobbled off with what looked like a hamstring problem.
The visitors then found themselves on their own line after skipper Ben Foden’s kick was charged down, but Lewis’ drop-goal attempt sailed wide.
Bath again kicked for territory approaching the 20-minute mark; Jamie Gibson gathered the lineout safely, but huge pressure on Saints from Nathan Charles saw the ball squirm loose and Levi Douglas dived on it to score the game’s opening try.
Lewis’ conversion looked to be drifting wide but curled inside the post to make it 10-0, but after a couple of good carries from Rob Horne and Harrison, Bath were pinged for offside and Myler reduced the deficit.
A lovely dink over the top from Myler then released Horne, and while Saints had some real momentum a blatant offside from Bath saw the visitors settle for only three points.
Another deliberate offside saw Bath’s key man Lewis sent to the sin-bin, and Myler put Saints within a point from just outside the 22.
Inaccuracy in the switling conditions from the tee cost Bath either side of the interval, as first James Wilson then Lewis – returning from his yellow card – missed three-point attempts.
A massive clearance from Lewis from the edge of his own 22 ran out of room at the far end of the pitch, and Saints then turned the screw to win a penalty at the resulting scrum, and Myler put the visitors ahead for the first time in the match with 56 minutes gone.
That seemed to stir Bath into life and slowly they started building the phases, although Saints stood firm in defence and forced a big knock on with the rain still pounding down.
But an altercation off the ball with Nathan Catt saw Teimana Harrison shown a red card, and Lewis put Bath back ahead from the resulting penalty with just over 10 minutes remaining – a lead they would not relinquish despite Saints’ huge efforts as the clock ticked down.
BATH RUGBY: Homer, Atkins, Hurrell, Wilson, Vuna, Lewis, Cook, Obano, Charles, Lahiff, Douglas, Ewels (capt), Ellis, Bayliss, Phillips
Replacements: Van Vuuren, Catt, Thomas, Stooke, Grant, Fotuali’I, Brew, Banahan
SAINTS: Tuala, Tuitavake, Horne, Francis, Foden (capt), Myler, Reinach, Ma’afu, Marshall, Brookes, Ratuniyarawa, Ribbans, Gibson, Brüssow, Harrison
Replacements: Clare, van Wyk, Ford-Robinson, Paterson, Nutley, Groom, Stephenson, Pisi
5’ BATH Penalty Lewis 3-0
19’ BATH Try Douglas, Conversion Lewis 10-0
23’ SAINTS Penalty Myler 10-3
28’ SAINTS Penalty Myler 10-6
33’ SAINTS Penalty Myler 10-9
HALF-TIME Bath 10 – 9 Saints
56’ SAINTS Penalty Myler 10-12
69’ BATH Penalty Lewis 13-12
FULL-TIME Bath 13 – 12 Saints