Northampton Saints fell to their first defeat of the Gallagher Premiership season, losing 22-13 in a bad-tempered fixture away at Bath Rugby.
The hosts held a slender 10-8 lead at the interval after Will Chudley cancelled out Rory Hutchinson’s early score, with Rhys Priestland’s penalty sending Bath into the sheds ahead.
And in a second half that saw first Aled Brew red-carded for dangerous use of the forearm and then both Ben Franks and Paul Hill sin binned, Bath edged in front thanks to tries from Zach Mercer and Will Stuart.
Saints got off to the perfect start with just a minute on the board; James Grayson did brilliantly to charge down his opposite number’s clearance, and Hutchinson was quickest to react – hacking the ball through and touching down to score.
A well-executed lineout move involving Henry Taylor and Mike Haywood then released Jamie Gibson to carry up to Bath’s five-metre line, but despite knocking on the door Northampton were foiled as Freddie Burns made a good hit on Taqele Naiyaravoro.
The visitors had penalty advantage however and Grayson banged over the kick to take the scoreline to 8-0 with ten minutes played.
Bath responded eight minutes later, with scrum-half Chudley benefitting from a pop pass to go straight through a gap and score to the left of the posts – Priestland made no mistake with the routine conversion to bring the hosts within a point.
Saints looked the more likely to score, making two more entrances into Bath’s 22, but could not waltz their way across the whitewash with the hosts slowing down the ball at the breakdown.
With 31 minutes on the clock Ben Franks was penalised for not wrapping in a tackle, allowing Priestland to kick a penalty from 30 metres out and send his side ahead for the first time in the contest.
Northampton threatened yet again before the break as Gibson burst through the line and released Tom Collins, but after the winger’s weaving run, Haywood was unlucky to lose the ball forwards.
An early penalty was awarded to Saints after Beno Obano was pinged for bringing down a scrum, but Grayson just pushed his kick wide of the uprights – and Northampton were frustrated again moments later as the ball was trapped inside a maul five metres out and Bath regained possession.
The complexion of the game changed in the 48th minute as Brew was sent off for dangerously raising his forearm into George Furbank’s head, but it was Bath who extended their lead as Stuart stretched over from close range.
Priestland scuffed his conversion to leave it at 15-8 and Saints were left seven points adrift, but Wood answered with a swashbuckling carry to squirm over the line and touch down a try – although Northampton remained behind as Grayson’s conversion just missed.
A series of penalties in the shadow of Saints’ posts saw both Franks and then replacement Paul Hill sent to the sin bin, leaving it 13 against 14 for the time being and Bath took full advantage with Mercer crashing over to strike the killer blow with just eight minutes remaining.
Northampton could not claw back the deficit even after Franks and Hill returned to the field, and while they registered their first loss of the new season, Chris Boyd’s side remain top of the Gallagher Premiership for the time being ahead of the first round of European fixtures.