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Match Report: Bristol Bears 62 – 8 Northampton Saints

Northampton Saints endured a night to forget at Ashton Gate as Bristol Bears surged to a 62-8 Gallagher Premiership win to end a three-match winning run for the men in Black, Green and Gold.

Phil Dowson’s side were depleted by injuries and international call-ups, but the hosts were irresistible at times during the first half, securing a bonus point before the interval through Harry Randall’s double and tries for Harry Thacker and Ioan Lloyd.

Lloyd’s score early in the second half saw Bears pick up where they left off, and he was followed in by Chris Vui, George Kloska, Fitz Harding and Jake Heenan – meaning George Hendy’s first Premiership try was no more than a consolation for Northampton.

FIRST HALF

Tom Collins created the first real opportunity of the night with a break and offload, but Gabriel Ibitoye just got a hand to Fin Smith’s pass over the top, otherwise Rory Hutchinson would have been in down the right wing.

But Max Lahiff strayed offside two minutes later to concede a penalty, and Smith notched the game’s first points from the tee with seven minutes on the clock.

AJ MacGinty levelled the scores on ten minutes as Saints were pinged at the breakdown by referee Ian Tempest. Northampton looked to hit back straight away after Collins’ pass over the top found Hutchinson, but the centre’s kick forward was just out of reach of Fraser Dingwall as Randall got back to touch down.

Callum Braley did well to intercept inside his own half, poaching the ball off Semi Radradra, but Randall’s dummy at a ruck shortly after opened a gap for the scrum-half to dance through Saints’ line and score under the posts to make it 10-3.

Bristol broke again straight from the kick-off through Magnus Bradbury and Thacker and looked to have scored in the corner, but the hooker’s final pass to Siva Naulago was ruled as forward by the TMO and the try was chalked off.

However, Bears were not deterred and Thacker burrowed over close to the line for the hosts’ second, with MacGinty converting for the full seven points.

Four successive penalties were won by Saints in the red zone as the visitors started to build some pressure, but with the try-line in sight, Northampton were penalised for holding on and the Bears were able to clear.

Randall then grabbed his second of the night – but it was thanks to a moment of magic from Charles Piutau, who pirouetted out of a couple of tackles before grubbering through for the scrum-half, who did well to hold off Hendy and score in the corner.

The conversion was missed but another piece of brilliance from Piutau with the clock in the red handed Bristol a bonus point before half-time. Following a Thacker pass over the top, Piutau drew two defenders and offloaded for Lloyd to cross in the corner, giving Saints a lot of work to do from 27-3 down at the interval.

SECOND HALF

Bristol picked up where they left off – Thacker, Piutau, and Vui all offloading for Lloyd to run in another score in the corner. Vui then snuck through back of a ruck to score another on 51 minutes, with the try awarded via the TMO as the lock flirted with the offside line.

Saints finally grabbed themselves a try as Collins darted through a gap and found replacement Aaron Hinkley with a flat pass out wide – and while the flanker was tackled by Gabriel Ibitoye, he offloaded for Hendy to score.

But Kloska then went over from short range after some physical carrying lines from the hosts inside the 22 to kill the momentum.

And 12 minutes from time, Fitz Harding – who had been racking up a mountain of tackles all evening – then got on the scoresheet himself as Sam Bedlow broke through a gap and offloaded inside, allowing the hosts to notch up a half-century of points.

The penalties then began to stack up against Saints, and Hinkley saw yellow due to repeated team infringements. Bristol were in a rampant mood and immediately took advantage of the extra man, as Randall’s quick penalty allowed Heenan a clear run to the line.

Saints will need to regroup next week with a key Gallagher Premiership clash on the horizon as they host Bath on Friday evening at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens.

LINE-UPS

BEARS: Piutau, Naulago, Radradra, Williams, Ibitoye, MacGinty, Randall (c); Thomas, Thacker, Lahiff, Vui, Batley, Jeffries, Harding, Bradbury.
Replacements: Byrne, Woolmore, Kloska, Luatua, Heenan, Uren, Bedlow, Lloyd.

SAINTS: Hendy, Skosan, Dingwall (c), Hutchinson, Collins, F Smith, Braley; E Waller, S Matavesi, Petch, Salakaia-Loto, Moon, Coles, Scott-Young, Graham.
Replacements: Cruse, A Waller, Hill, Wilkins, Hinkley, Garside, J Grayson, Litchfield.

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