Northampton Saints were undone by a last-minute penalty at Ashton Gate to lose out by just a single point to Bristol Bears in their third Gallagher Premiership outing of the new campaign.
The men in Black, Green and Gold led throughout the contest, scoring first-half tries through David Ribbans and Piers Francis, while stern defence kept their dangerous hosts at bay for long periods of the game.
After Bristol hit back through Henry Purdy and Piers O’Conor either side of half-time, James Grayson’s nerveless penalty looked to have given Saints enough of a buffer in the final moments of the contest – but a brutal last-minute penalty allowed Sam Bedlow to kick the Bears to a one-point win with the clock in the red.
Saints came flying out of the blocks and took an eighth-minute lead when Ribbans collected an offload from second row partner Api Ratuniyarawa on the 22. The powerful lock fended off two defenders before accelerating over to score the game’s opening try for fly-half Grayson to convert.
The visitors’ all-action game continued to rattle their opponents, and on the quarter-hour mark Saints had doubled their lead, Grayson chipping over the home side’s defensive line for centre Francis to latch on to and dot down under the posts.
But the home side then struck back via a well-executed move; several crisp passes allowed fullback Purdy to finish off in the corner, although Tiff Eden could not convert the extras.
Bristol thought they had scored their second just before the break. Sharp hands again saw them unlock Saints’ defence in the face of impressive line speed for Alapati Leiua to touch down – however, scrum-half Andy Uren had knocked on earlier in the move and the try was chalked off by referee Luke Pearce.
After the restart, an Eden penalty pulled the hosts back to within six after Saints were penalised at the scrum. And they could have been level soon after, but the replacement fly-half missed two straightforward chances to leave the home side six points adrift.
Minutes later his opposite number Grayson showed his kicking game was in full working order, notching a penalty – won by Lewis Ludlam at the breakdown – to extend the lead to nine with the final quarter to play.
But the Bears weren’t done yet. From the base of a home scrum, Harry Randall threaded a sweetly weighted kick through for O’Connor to collect and touch down under the sticks. Replacement Bedlow made no mistake with the conversion to take the home side within two points with eight minutes to go.
As Bristol continued to press, tighthead prop Ehren Painter was harshly adjudged to have deliberately knocked on by referee Pearce, and up stepped Bedlow to calmly slot home the resulting penalty in the dying seconds to win the game.