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Bears 20 – 36 Saints: Northampton clinch bonus point win in Bristol

Two scores either side of half-time from wing Tommy Freeman saw Northampton Saints seal a five-point Gallagher Premiership victory away at Bristol Bears.

Tries from Paul Hill and Freeman, plus two Dan Biggar penalties, saw the men in Black, Green and Gold come from behind at Ashton Gate to lead 20-13 at the interval.

And although Bristol came roaring out of the traps after half-time to briefly level the scores, Northampton were imperious from there on, with Freeman grabbing his second of the night before George Furbank clinched the bonus point with 17 minutes remaining.

The hosts opened the scoring in the fifth minute as, after kicking a penalty into the corner, a Bristol maul crabbed sideways towards the posts and hooker Jake Kerr broke off to touch down – with Callum Sheedy making no mistake with the conversion.

But from the kick-off, pressure from Saints won back possession and after Alex Mitchell made a dart, a breakdown penalty in front of the posts allowed Biggar to reduce the deficit from the kicking tee.

A 50-22 kick from Andy Uren hurt Saints as Bristol gained field position, and while Courtney Lawes stole a lineout, the flanker’s attempt to palm the ball back on Northampton’s side was unlucky to go dead off the back of the pitch – but a subsequent scrum penalty allowed Saints the chance to clear their lines.

Freeman was close to going over in the 18th minute after a burst from Juarno Augustus, but while the young wing was ushered into touch, the visitors were playing with penalty advantage from an infringement in front of the posts, and Biggar took the opportunity for three more easy points.

Saints were offside in the 21st minute allowing Sheedy to stretch the hosts’ lead again with a straightforward penalty, and although Northampton dominated the next ten minutes in terms of possession and territory, they could not make it count on the scoreboard – and Sheedy made them pay with another penalty with nine minutes remaining to the break.

But from there Saints clicked through the gears, striking straight back as Hill crashed over the whitewash just right of the posts after Matt Proctor sent Furbank through a gap, with Biggar landing the routine conversion to level the scores.

And it was a quick one-two for Saints as Freeman gathered a Furbank offload and broke a couple of tackles to race over and score. Biggar was metronomic from the tee to land the conversion, and a timely scrum penalty for Northampton saw them end the half 20-13 to the good.

But two minutes into the second half Bristol were level, as impressing handling from the hosts released Toby Fricker who found Alapati Leiua to score.

Two more scrum penalties against the hosts moved Northampton within kicking range, and Biggar slotted another goal on 53 minutes to edge his side clear at 23-20.

Saints then had some daylight on 60 minutes as Mitchell steamed down the blindside from a scrum, and there was Freeman again to cut inside the last man and score, although Biggar was finally fallible from the tee as his conversion attempt hit the post.

Another scintillating score followed three minutes later to seal the bonus point; deft hands from Lawes released Mitchell again, who dummied before sending Furbank over in the left corner to make it 33-20.

The TMO Ian Tempest stepped in to rule out a Lewis Ludlam try with 12 minutes remaining, with a forward pass spotted in the build-up, but there was still time for Biggar to land a monster penalty from 45 metres to take Saints two scores clear.

The men in Black, Green and Gold saw out the game from there safely, and now look forward to a home clash against Bath Rugby next weekend.

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