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Match Report: Bristol Bears 52 – 21 Northampton Saints

Northampton Saints’ long winning run came to an end on Friday evening, as they were defeated 52-21 by Bristol Bears at Ashton Gate.

The men in Black, Green and Gold were ten points down at the interval. Bristol stormed into a 17-point lead through tries from Joe Batley and Harry Randall along with an AJ MacGinty penalty, but Ollie Sleightholme’s barnstorming run and try five minutes before the break brought Saints right back into the contest.

However the hosts were in form with ball in hand and scored a further five tries in the second 40, with Saints only able to muster two more of their own as Sleightholme scored a second and Jake Garside added another as Phil Dowson’s side fell to a first loss in four months.

FIRST HALF

After six minutes the hosts had the first score of the game. Archie McParland’s box kick was charged down by Batley, and the second rower gathered the loose ball and dotted down under the sticks. MacGinty added the extras and the home side had an early lead.

Bristol could have had a second ten minutes later, but resolute defence saw the ball held up over the line. But Bears continued to ride the early wave of pressure and added three points to their tally after 18 minutes through the boot of MacGinty.

The early point scoring from the hosts continued when they grabbed a second try through eventual man-of-the-match Randall. From the kick off, MacGinty broke through the midfield and made it up to the away side’s 22, before passing inside to Randall for the try.

Saints needed to find a foothold in the game, and when Siva Naulago was yellow carded on 34 minutes for a deliberate knock on, Smith kicked to the corner and Northampton took advantage instantly.

From the lineout, the ball was spun to Sleightholme on the 22, and he barged past an array of defenders to dot down over the line for a vital score five minutes before the break. Fin Smith added the conversion and cut the gap to ten points.

SECOND HALF

Bristol scored the first try of the second half when Kyle Sinckler barged over from close range, after Lewis Ludlam has been sent to the sin-bin moments before.

But Saints didn’t lie down and replied almost immediately. George Hendy, on his first competitive outing in nearly 100 days, made the initial break over the halfway line, and on the next phase the ball came out to Smith whose crossfield kick bounced perfectly into the hands of Sleightholme for his second try of the evening and his ninth of a prolific season in the Gallagher Premiership. Smith added the conversion and Saints were back within ten.

However that gap grew back to 24 points as James Dun registered Bristol’s fourth score before Max Malins then grabbed the fifth with 18 minutes left to play, as the replacement burst through the Saints defence on the 22 and went under the posts untouched.

The high-scoring affair continued as Saints grabbed their third of the contest with 14 minutes left on the clock. Another Smith crossfield kick this time fell into the arms of Jake Garside, who dived over in the corner for his first Gallagher Premiership try. Smith added the conversion and Saints now trailed by 17.

Bristol continued to press for more points and were rewarded with a couple of late scores as replacement hooker Fred Davies dotted down before Gabriel Ibitoye finished off a flowing score to break the 50-point mark.

Saints still sit top of the Gallagher Premiership with five rounds left to play, with Saracens the visitors to cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens next Friday evening.

LINE UPS

BRISTOL: 15 Heward, 14 Naulago, 13 Van Rensburg, 12 Williams, 11 Ibitoye, 10 MacGinty, 9 Randall; 1 Thomas, 2 Oghre, 3 Sinckler, 4 Dun, 5 Batley, 6 Luatua, 7 Harding (c), 8 Bradbury

Replacements: 16 Davies, 17 Genge, 18 Lahiff, 19 Owen, 20 Heenan, 21 Marmion, 22 Ravouvou, 23 Malins

SAINTS: 15 Hendy, 14 Ramm, 13 Odendaal, 12 Hutchinson, 11 Sleightholme, 10 F.Smith, 9 McParland; 1 Iyogun, 2 Matavesi, 3 Davison, 4 Mayanavanua, 5 Coles, 6 Lawes, 7 Ludlam (c), 8 Graham

Replacements: 16 Langdon, 17 A.Waller, 18 Prowse, 19 Lockett, 20 Augustus, 21 Garside, 22 Dingwall, 23 Litchfield

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