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Back-row duo call on Saints to produce 80-minute performance

Back rower Aaron Hinkley believes Northampton Saints showed what they are about in the first half of a morale-boosting 45-31 victory over Bristol Bears on Saturday.

The expunging of Wasps’ results from this season’s Gallagher Premiership table meant Saints entered the at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens clash needing to get back to winning ways with a record won two, lost four.

Despite an early setback in falling behind to Harry Thacker’s try, Northampton went on to dominate the remainder of the first 40 minutes, playing the high-tempo, entertaining rugby they have become renowned for.

“We know that when we’ve got hold of the ball, we’re dangerous and we’re the best attacking side in the league,” said Hinkley.

“We can score tries from anywhere so it’s just about getting ourselves in the right areas to play and looking after the ball, doing all the little things right so we can actually do well.”

Saints’ ability to ‘score from anywhere’ was definitely demonstrated during the sensational length-of-the-field move that led to Australian lock Lukhan Salakaia-Loto notching his first Northampton try and sealing a bonus point in the process.

By this stage, the men in Black, Green and Gold were playing with real confidence and Hinkley was a close-hand witness for what will surely be a Gallagher Premiership Try of the Season contender.

“I was on the right-hand side, it wasn’t too far away from me – I was there or thereabouts,” he said.

“That was us playing our best rugby, keeping the ball alive, and we know we’ve got the talent to score length-of-the-field tries.”

If the first half (which finished 31-7 in their favour) shone Saints in their most positive light, one of their more frustrating habits of the season so far reared its head after the break when Bristol threatened a comeback.

It started well enough, with Hinkley playing his part in Matt Proctor’s try which extended the lead to 38-7, but the Bears then scored 19 unanswered points to momentarily set nerves jangling again among the Gardens faithful.

Thankfully, James Grayson’s score – created by a superb Hinkley offload – with nine minutes left killed off the contest, if not some of the frustration the hosts felt at the final whistle.

Hinkley added: “They wanted to play from anywhere too and our plan was to suffocate that, which we did really well in the first half, but in the second half they got the better of us.

“They’ve come out and done a good job after half-time, and we need to be better at wrestling back that momentum.”

Hinkley’s back-row partner Sam Graham was also critical of the way in which Saints allowed things to drift after half-time, insisting it is a mark of the standards they demand of themselves.

Graham said: “We’ve got big ambitions as a Club, and if we’re honest with ourselves, that performance over 80 minutes is not good enough to get us where we want to go.

“In patches it definitely is – we showed so much that we’ve worked on, things that we haven’t got right in previous weeks we’ve nailed – but then there were other areas where we dropped away.

“[The second half] was a mark of the pressure we were putting on ourselves and the way that teams when they’re behind want to start playing.

“Bristol want to play similar to us and unfortunately we started to give them a bit of momentum and put pressure on ourselves.”

Next up for the men in Black, Green and Gold is another home Gallagher Premiership encounter on Friday evening, with Exeter Chiefs coming to town.

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