Saints are one step closer to playing Champions Cup rugby next season after securing a dramatic late victory over Bath at Franklin’s Gardens. A 74th minute try from hooker Mikey Haywood, converted by Stephen Myler, was just enough as Saints came away with a 15-14 victory.
The match started promisingly for Saints who were awarded a penalty on half way in the opening minutes, which Myler superbly kicked to touch for a line out deep inside the Bath 22. This was the first of three consecutive line outs for Saints, but they couldn’t take advantage of their attacking field position and Bath scored the first try of the match from the resulting counter attack.
A kick downfield from Bath went into space, and with no one at home for Saints, Harry Mallinder couldn’t quite control the awkwardly bouncing ball on his own try line, allowing winger Jeff Williams to cross for the visitors. Priestland added the extras.
Almost immediately after the restart Bath nearly added to their score after a Saints kick fell straight into the arms of a Bath player, allowing Jonathan Joseph to break through the Saints defence, before a forward pass denied the dancing Anthony Watson.
Saints then had a real opportunity to level the scores, with Tom Wood applying excellent pressure following a Bath line out to regain possession for the home side. Play was then taken into the Bath 22 with man-of the-match Teimana Harrison’s superbly strong surge taking him past a number of Bath defenders and up to the 5m line. The ball was taken out wide but it didn’t quite reach the intended receiver and was subsequently pushed upfield.
Williams was quickest to react and despite Saints chasing back, there was no catching Williams who booted the ball forward before touching down for his second score of the afternoon.
As the first half entered the final ten minutes, Saints continued to work themselves into good field positions but poor handling meant they were unable to make the most of their opportunities.
With just over a minute remaining it looked as if Saints had reduced the deficit with a try from George North after some quick hands on the wing from Mallinder found the Welsh winger on the left. The pass from Mallinder was unfortunate to be deemed forward, however, and the first half came to a close with Saints trailing by 14 points.
The second half got underway with Bath applying pressure on the Saints defence before James Wilson, briefly on for George Pisi, made an immediate impact with a searing break up the left wing to take play up to Bath’s 22.
A yellow card soon followed for Bath with scrum half Chris Cook sent to the sin bin for kicking the ball out of Lee Dickson’s hands. Once again, Saints were unable to capitalise on the resulting penalty as Bath cleared their lines from a scrum.
A try did eventually come for Saints, however, with Dickson offloading to Harrison who powered over in the right corner. Myler’s conversion was just wide of the mark to leave the score at 14-5 to Bath, before the fly half was on target with a penalty in the 62nd minute to close the gap.
Bath nearly extended their lead after 66 minutes with replacement scum half Will Homer darting through the Saints defence before a chip over from George Ford was just out of reach for Williams, before Ford missed a penalty from out wide.
North then set up another attacking opportunity for Saints with a break up the left to return his side to the Bath 22. The TMO then declared that Tom Wood was held up, before hooker Haywood crossed with just over six minutes to play. Myler held his nerve, under pressure, with a successful conversion to put the Saints in front for the first time and secure victory in a nerve-wracking finish to the match.
SAINTS Mallinder; K Pisi, G Pisi, Burrell, North; Myler, Dickson (capt); Waller, Haywood, Brookes, Lawes, Day, Gibson, Wood, Harrison
Subs - Marshall, Ma’afu, Hill, Matfield, Nutley, Fotuali’i, Hanrahan, Wilson
BATH Watson; Williams, Joseph, Devoto, Banahan; Priestland, Cook; Catt, Webber, Wilson, Ewels, Attwood, Garvey, Louw (capt), Denton
Subs - Dunn, Auterac, Lahiff, Day, Houston, Homer, Ford, Clark
REFEREE Wayne Barnes
10 mins BATH Try Williams Con Priestland 0-7
19 mins BATH Try Williams Con Priestland 0-14
48 mins BATH Yellow Card Chris Cook
56 mins SAINTS Try Harrison 5-14
62 mins SAINTS Pen Myler 8-14
69 mins BATH Missed Pen Ford 8-14
73 mins BATH Try Haywood Con Myler 15-14