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Bath 31 – 36 Saints: Stunning Northampton turnaround keeps top-four hopes alive

Northampton Saints produced one of the Gallagher Premiership’s greatest-ever comebacks, as they scored four tries in the final 16 minutes to beat Bath Rugby at the Rec.

The men in Black, Green and Gold trailed 17-7 at the interval as two scores for Max Clark and Will Muir turned the scoreline on its head following Matt Proctor’s opener.

Juarno Augustus reduced the deficit but Saints looked dead and buried after Ben Spencer’s quickfire double sent his side 31-12 ahead with less than a quarter of the match remaining.

Alex Mitchell’s score sparked the comeback, and as Tommy Freeman’s effort then a penalty try took Northampton level, Mike Haywood dived over with the clock in the red to complete the turnaround and send Chris Boyd’s side fourth in the league standings with three games remaining.

Saints ripped through Bath’s defence with their first meaningful attack after five minutes, as Rory Hutchinson’s offload out the back released Ollie Sleightholme, but as the wing looked to put Alex Mitchell clear for a try, his pass was deemed forward by referee Luke Pearce.

The hosts’ scrum earned them a penalty shortly afterwards, but after Bath kicked into the 22, a strong counter ruck from Northampton won back possession and they cleared their lines.

Saints came close to scoring again after 11 minutes after Alex Waller won a scrum penalty which George Furbank sent into the 22. A sensational pass from Mitchell found Lewis Ludlam in space, but as the flanker trucked towards the line he could not find Augustus on his shoulder with an offload and the ball went loose.

But Northampton piled the pressure on a Bath scrum inside their own 22 to force a knock-on, and after winning a penalty from the subsequent scrum, patient play from Saints saw them build the phases and eventually Proctor wriggled through a gap to score.

The swirling wind inside the Rec was no problem for Furbank as he landed the conversion from out wide to make it 7-0, but Bath were level after 25 minutes as – from a lineout – Jonathan Joseph’s chip over the top bounced up favourably for Clark to gather and score.

Furbank had the chance to put Saints back in front moments later after the hosts were pinged at the breakdown, but his kick drifted just left of the posts, and Bath went ahead eight minutes before half-time as Muir crept over in the corner following a period of pressure on the Northampton line.

Cipriani kicked both conversions and closed out the half with a penalty to send the sides into the sheds at 17-7 as Saints were adjudged to have tackled Tom Dunn off the ball.

Furbank sent two penalties into the corner early in the second half as Saints looked to reduce arrears, and the gamble paid off as Augustus charged through two tacklers to score following the lineout drive.

However it became an uphill battle just before the hour mark for Northampton, as Spencer crossed twice in quick succession. First the Bath scrum-half scored in the right corner after breaking away from a lineout drive which was trundling towards the line, then – as a loose ball in midfield was hacked on and gathered by Muir – Spencer was there again to finish from close range as the hosts quickly recycled the ball.

Spencer twice converted from the touchline, one of which went in off the post, to rub salt in the wound and leave Saints staring down the barrel at 31-12.

A lengthy delay followed as Brandon Nansen, on for Api Ratuniyarawa, was treated for a nasty head injury – but Saints regrouped on the resumption to win a scrum penalty, build the phases, and then Mitchell exploited a gap to give his side a chance with 15 minutes to play.

And the Northampton No.9 darted through a ruck five minutes later to set the platform for another try, with Freeman this time the Saint to finish off the move as he shrugged off a couple of final tackles to score.

Saints now had their tails up and the turnaround was nearly complete with four minutes remaining; a massive shove from the pack was moving at pace towards the line, only for Bath to bring it down illegally and referee Pearce awarded a penalty try.

He also sent Jaco Coetzee to the sin bin, meaning Bath were down to 13 men as Josh Bayliss had also gone off injured with all replacements used off the hosts’ bench.

There was not much time to win it, but Northampton were not done yet and with Bath two men down, they worked the ball all the way to five metres out before Augustus looked to have knocked on. But the ball was scooped up by Haywood who crashed over, and the TMO confirmed the loose ball was caused by the boot of Semesa Rokoduguni in the ruck and eventually awarded the most dramatic of tries.

The hardly believable final result meant Saints jumped up to fourth in the Premiership standings, and can hang their hats on a first win at the Rec under Boyd at the fourth time of asking.

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