Northampton Saints fell to their first defeat at Franklin’s Gardens in eight matches, as Bristol Bears took advantage of the home side being reduced to 11 men in added time in round 16 of the Gallagher Premiership.
Bristol scored early through Joe Batley and the visitors extended their advantage when Jordan Crane crossed the whitewash, but a Taqele Naiyaravoro try for Northampton reduced the deficit to 5-12 at half-time.
The men in Black, Green and Gold started quickly after the break with tries from Ahsee Tuala and George Furbank, but Bristol fought back through a Harry Randall try. The game swung back in Northampton’s favour when Cobus Reinach touched down for Saints' bonus-point try before the visitors levelled at the death through Piers O’Conor with Ian Madigan’s conversion winning the match.
Saints made a late change as David Ribbans was replaced in the starting line-up by Api Ratuniyarawa with James Craig coming onto the bench.
Bristol started the game brightly and Batley broke through on the left in the fourth minute to open the scoring for the visitors, but Callum Sheedy missed the conversion.
The Bears got their second try of the afternoon when Siale Piutau made a break but fell just short of the line leaving Crane to cross over. The TMO gave the try and Luke Daniels successfully converted to extend Bristol’s advantage to 12-0.
But then the men in Black, Green and Gold began to find their feet in the game, making breaks further into Bristol’s 22 but the visitors remained resolute. But Naiyaravoro crossed on the left on the half an hour mark to give Northampton their first points of the match and though Piers Francis was unable to add the extras, Saints entered half-time with some point behind them.
After the break, Saints applied pressure from the off and it paid dividends when the ball came wide for Tuala to score on the right.
Moments later Northampton scored their third when the Samoan winger broke free and offloaded to Furbank who skipped around the defence to touch down while Francis added the conversion to give Saints a 17-12 lead.
Bristol scored their third when Daniels found space in the middle and offloaded for Randall to cross the whitewash and level the score, while the winger then added the conversion to put the visitors back in the lead.
Saints secured the bonus-point try when Reinach intercepted from 30 metres out to score under the posts, with Francis adding the extras to give Northampton a 24-19 lead.
In a frantic final ten minutes, Northampton had Reinach, Jamie Gibson, Tom Wood and Alex Waller sent to the sin bin as Bristol sat five metres out from the try-line.
Deep in added time, O’Conor scored Bristol’s bonus-point try out wide to level the scores as Saints lack of numbers showed while Madigan converted to give Bristol the victory.