Six tries from Northampton Saints in a remarkable game at Ashton Gate saw Chris Boyd’s men beat Bristol Bears 45-40 and pick up their first away win of the season.
Ehren Painter and Andrew Kellaway both scored their first Saints tries in the first half, with Lewis Ludlam also crossing to hand the visitors a lead at the interval – but the Bears were in touch at 24-20 with Will Hurrell and Harry Thacker on the scoresheet.
And while the frequent try-scoring continued after the break, Northampton kept their noses in front with Taqele Naiyaravoro, Alex Waller and Mikey Haywood sealing a bonus-point win that took Saints up to seventh in the Gallagher Premiership table.
A frantic first half began with Dan Biggar kicking Saints 3-0 up when the ball was slapped out of Cobus Reinach’s hands in front of the posts, but a Northampton pass was picked off after the restart by Harry Thacker.
Bristol then went through the phases and it was Hurrell who eventually found some space and wriggled through a couple of tackles to hit straight back.
Sheedy was on target with the extras to make it 7-3, and while Saints thought they had answered with a try of their own soon after, Luther Burrell’s try under the posts was ruled out by the TMO for a forward pass during a slick lineout move involving Reinach and Biggar.
But two quick scores from the visitors put them into the ascendancy at 17-7; first a gamble to go into the corner with a penalty paid off as Painter shoved his way over from close range, then Tom Collins’ footwork opened up the space to put Kellaway into the right corner six minutes later.
Biggar was on the mark with both conversions, but Callum Sheedy hit back with a penalty when Jamie Gibson went in off his feet.
Jack Lam was carded by referee Luke Pearce with Bristol buckling under huge pressure for repeat offences inside the 22, but completely against the run of play John Afoa burst through a gap in a ruck into an open field, and had the easy task of finding Thacker inside him to go under the posts.
And a whirlwind five minutes before the break first saw a Bears try disallowed before Saints worked their way all the way up the field to score under the posts through Ludlam – Courtney Lawes providing the assist with an offload.
Naiyaravoro’s try early in the second half guaranteed a bonus point for Saints; Luther Burrell did well to gather a loose ball before the big winger smashed through three desperate Bears tackles.
But Bristol once again refused to lie down quietly, hitting hitting straight back with a well-worked try of their own as Sheedy and Piers O’Connor combined to set up Luke Morahan.
Waller then sniped over from close range right under the posts after Reinach snaffled a loose ball and booted it brilliantly into the corner, with Tom Collins forcing the covering player into touch.
And Saints then struck the killer blow after Kellaway’s electric break up the field, and from a dangerous lineout position Burrell crashed the ball up the middle and Haywood capitalised to score a try that gave the visitors some daylight at 45-30 with a quarter of an hour remaining.
Hurrell and Alapati Leiua earned the hosts two bonus points in defeat with late scores, but Boyd’s men had done enough to take a maximum five league points back to Franklin’s Gardens.
Tickets are still available for Northampton’s next home match, which sees Saints take on fierce rivals Leicester Tigers at Twickenham in ‘The Derby’. The match is being played in aid of Rob Horne; for more information and to book tickets please CLICK HERE.