A cruel bounce of the ball might have decided Northampton Saints’ clash against Bristol Bears on Sunday, but Director of Rugby Chris Boyd could not hide his disappointment after a late 21-28 defeat.
The visitors came to Franklin’s Gardens in confident, table-topping form – but for the most part Saints limited their notorious running threat and fired several shots of their own.
As well as holding onto the ball and kicking accurately to limit opportunities, Nick Isiekwe’s try on the stroke of half-time and George Furbank’s scintillating score had Saints sitting on a seven-point lead heading into the final moments of the clash.
Luke Morahan levelled the scores for the visitors with five minutes remaining, and from the kick-off, Piers Francis competed well in the air to disrupt Bristol regathering – but the ball sat up perfectly for Fitz Harding to break and send Andy Uren under the posts for the game-winning score.
Despite his game plan proving effective for large periods of the contest, Boyd admitted he was never comfortable with a seven-point lead given the Bears’ ability to quickly turn a game on its head.
“We missed some opportunities in the first 20 minutes,” he said. “But, from five minutes before half-time onwards, we controlled that game by and large pretty well.
“I was never comfortable; Bristol are top because they have an uncanny ability of pulling a rabbit out of the hat when they need to.
“The bounce of the ball and they’re up the other end, scoring a try. All credit to them. I was never comfortable, but I thought we were in relative control at 21-14 with only a few minutes left on the clock, so that was really disappointing.
“Against Bath here we created plenty but we didn’t score enough, didn’t finish enough, but this wasn’t a lack of execution of our stuff. We just had a couple of loose situations that they ended up getting 14 points from.”Chris Boyd, Director of Rugby
“We thought our bench had a bit of an edge. They play hard and fast but so do we, so we thought if we could take some juice out of their legs we’d still be running at the end.
“Things were going pretty well; we were trying to get a bit more length into our kicking game to get them deeper into their territory, which might have changed what they were doing and see if we could force a mistake.
“But in the end that didn’t happen, and the rest is history.”
This was the second time this season that Saints have been the victims of an agonising last-gasp reversal at the hands of the Bears, and Boyd conceded this defeat was a particularly tough pill to swallow.
But with Worcester Warriors providing an altogether different challenge next week, Northampton’s Director of Rugby emphasized the importance of Saints learning quickly from their disappointment.
Boyd added: “It’s like a funeral parlour in the changing rooms; the guys are gutted for each other after putting themselves in a position to win that game. It’s an 80-minute game and we weren’t clinical enough in key times.
“Playing Worcester and playing Bristol are different games, but the game against Sale was different as well.
“We’ll take the positives out of this game and see if we can extract some solutions to the learnings that we need, and then we’ll flush that out on Tuesday, then all our focus will turn to playing Worcester – a different challenge.”