Northampton Saints Under-18s were defeated 13-5 by Bristol Bears in the Premiership Rugby U18s League Final, falling short in their first final in seven years at Sixways in the closing day of the Under-18 season.
Saints had topped the Northern Conference heading into the Final, winning four of their six games throughout the season, and they started brightly against unbeaten Bristol to send Frankie Sleightholme over after just five minutes.
But discipline would cost Northampton as a string of penalties earned Bears field position and their only try from close range before the break. Neither side could make a shot stick either side of the interval, but Bristol would eventually get the rub of the green to pull ahead with two penalties that would keep them ahead until the final whistle.
A Henry Pollock break earned Saints the first score of the day, with the back row streaking through Bristol’s line and finding Sleightholme on his shoulder to see the winger rounding the last man on his way over the whitewash.
Bristol snuck one back as a string of penalties got them close, a driving maul getting them up to the whitewash and patient phase play seeing them over.
Saints were struck a blow as Craig Wright was shown a yellow card for a dangerous tackle, but the young Northampton men fought to survive the period down a man unscathed.
And close calls from Sleightholme and then Archie Kean got Saints close to scoring again, but when the half-time whistle blew the scoreboard still showed 7-5 in Bristol’s favour.
Bristol extended their lead to four points with three off the tee after the break and looked close to adding their second but were made to settle for another three from Sam Worsley’s boot by a strong Saints defence.
But at 13-5 down, Northampton went down to 14 again after Ewan Baker sent to the sin bin was and that proved to be the killer blow for Saints, with Bristol riding out the pressure of all Saints’ best efforts to the final whistle.