With live rugby still off the books, we bring you another Classic Match from the Saints archives. This weekend we revisit Northampton’s 2014 Challenge Cup final skirmish against Bath Rugby...
Two late tries and a near-perfect kicking display from Stephen Myler inspired Northampton Saints to a superb comeback win over Bath in the Challenge Cup final.
In damp conditions in Cardiff defences dominated proceedings but while Bath fly-half George Ford struggled from the tee, Myler kicked six penalties and added a conversion for a 20-point haul.
Anthony Watson’s breakaway score in the first half had Bath in front, but slowly and surely Saints ground their way back into the contest after the interval as Myler punished any infringement.
And in the final stages they finally crossed the whitewash as well as Phil Dowson piled over at the back of a driving maul.
There was still time for another score for Saints as, after a Myler interception, Luther Burrell appeared to have been held up over the line before a combination of Ben Foden and George North forced the ball to ground to seal victory.
The win maintains Saints’ chances of a European and domestic double with the Premiership Rugby final still to come next weekend.
There was little sign of the kicking problems to come for Ford when, as early as the second minute, the fly-half drilled a penalty from the halfway line with consummate ease.
But the men in Black, Green and Gold – with only four changes from the side that beat Leicester Tigers in such thrilling fashion last week – soon began to assert themselves and with Bath forced into fielding the inexperienced Tom Dunn in their front-row they were under the pump straight away at scrum time.
British & Irish Lion Alex Corbisiero the nudge on and when the penalty was won Myler made no mistake to level things up at 3-3.
Bath’s driving maul has been a real threat all season and they came agonisingly close to a try after 12 minutes, but Saints held them up short. With the referee playing advantage however Ford went back for the kick which he duly slotted to put them back in front at 6-3.
But soon it was Saints who came within a whisker of the game’s opening try; Nick Abendanon foolishly tried to offload under serious pressure by his own try line. The loose pass was intercepted by Lee Dickson but with the try line begging he was tackled just short.
That set up a succession of scrums on the Bath try line and eventually they won the simplest of penalties that Myler kicked to level things up again.
Bath’s defensive intensity eventually created the first try of the match, as Jonathan Joseph’s crunching hit on Ken Pisi behind the gainline freed the ball up and Watson was the quickest to react – the winger scooping up the loose ball and bursting clear from halfway to touch down under the posts, Ford converting for a 13-6 lead.
Ford could have capped a near perfect first half with a penalty on the stroke of the interval but he pulled it left and it remained 13-6 at the break to the side wearing Blue, Black and White.
Saints’ chance of a fightback took a huge dent at the start of the second half when Corbisiero was sent to the sin bin for a late off-the-ball tackle.
But all of a sudden Ford’s place kicking deserted him, the fly-half missing two eminently kickable penalties at the start of the second 40 either side of Myler slotting a simple effort of his own.
So, Bath were only four points to the good at 13-9 as the game approached the hour mark, and when Myler slotted his fourth penalty from near halfway the comeback was well and truly on.
Panic appeared to be setting in for Bath and Saints, with Corbisiero back from his ten minutes in the bin, sensed their opportunity.
Ford was caught in possession after a fine box kick from replacement Kahn Fotuali’i and his careless offload forced an infringement from Abendanon in front of his own posts. Myler was never going to pass up that opportunity and all of a sudden Saints were in front for the first time in the match.
The game was fast becoming a nightmare for Ford and Abendanon, a miscommunication between the two meaning the fly-half spilled a regulation high ball to invite yet more Saints pressure.
From that scrum Saints won yet another penalty and the metronomic Myler continued his flawless display with a sixth penalty of the evening.
Bath needed a response and Ford showed great character to put his previous misses behind him and slot a tough kick in the 65th minute.
Saints kicked a penalty for the corner shortly after and the decision so nearly paid off as they created the overlap down the short side, but the ball just squirmed out of Alex Waller’s grasp as he looked set to score.
From the next lineout Anthony Perenise was sent to the bin for Bath and finally the pressure told as the driving maul burst through and replacement Dowson emerged at the bottom of a pile of bodies with the ball for the all-important try.
Myler’s conversion made it 25-16 and moments later Saints were home and dry, the fly-half breaking clear after an interception before finding Pisi who in turn fed Burrell.
And while the England centre looked like he had been held up over the line, Foden and North forced the ball to ground and crowned a famous victory for Saints.
BATH: Abendanon; Rokoduguni, Joseph, Devoto (Henson 65), Watson; Ford, Young (Stringer 63); James (Catt 56), Dunn (Guinazu 60), Wilson (Perenise 56); Hooper (c) (Day 72), Attwood; Fearns, Louw, Houston (Mercer 54).
SAINTS: Foden; K Pisi, G Pisi (Stephenson 77), Burrell (Stephenson 77), North; Myler, L Dickson (Fotuali’i 56); Corbisiero (Waller 59), Haywood (McMillan 74), Mercey (Denman 59); Manoa (C Day 65), Lawes; Clark (Dowson 59), Wood (c), Dickinson.
Referee: Jerome Garces (France)
TRIES: Bath: Anthony Watson. Saints: Phil Dowson, Ben Foden
CONVERSIONS: Bath: George Ford. Saints: Stephen Myler
PENALTIES: Bath: George Ford (3). Saints: Stephen Myler (6)