Pack problems see Bath slip to first defeat as Saints move to top of table
Match report: BATH RUGBY 14 NORTHAMPTON SAINTS 18
By Harry Abbott
Bath Rugby failed to get to grips with Northampton's dominant pack as Saints edged a nervy contest in the battle to move to the top of the Aviva Premiership table.
With both sides arriving at The Rec with two victories from their opening two matches, proceedings were always likely to be close. The visitors' formidable scrum gave them the advantage, however, allowing Stephen Myler to boot them to the head of the standings and force Bath to succumb to a first defeat of the campaign.
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Nick Abendanon gave the home side a dream start to the contest, touching down inside two minutes. Captain Stuart Hooper claimed a lineout and the ball eventually made its way to Tom Biggs, who played a delicate grubber kick to split the visiting defence and allow Abendanon to charge to the corner.
Olly Barkley missed his first kick of the campaign when a difficult conversion attempt drifted wide before Myler cut the deficit with a penalty from the left-hand touchline.
Barkley responded and hit back with a penalty of his own but the Northampton forwards soon took control of the contest, giving Myler the platform to fire his side ahead before the break.
The Bath pack could not live with their Saints counterparts and were continually penalised at the scrum and the breakdown and Myler took full advantage to land three penalties without reply.
The home side wasted the chance to stop the Northampton juggernaut on the stroke of half-time when Barkley saw a routine penalty from in front of the posts come back off the woodwork, allowing the visitors to clear.
Saints picked up where they left off as the second half got under way and Bath's pack continued to crumble, with a further indiscretion gifting Myler another penalty.
A quickfire double from Barkley threatened to turn the game on its head, though, with the Bath fly-half firing two penalties to bring his side within a point of their visitors.
The increased pressure seemed to get to the Barkley's counterpart and first Myler was off-target with a drop goal attempt, before a shot at the posts also drifted wide.
When Barkley under hit a penalty of his own which would have given Bath the lead for the first time in almost an hour, Tom May, on for the injured Ben Foden, quickly took advantage to restore the visitors' composure.
Following sustained pressure, May worked his way into the pocked to land a coolly-taken drop goal to put Saints' lead up to four heading into the final few minutes.
Knowing they needed a try, Bath laid siege to the visitors' line but, despite a penetrating run from Abendanon, Northampton pounced on Ben Skirving's fumble to close out the contest, with the hosts having to settle for a losing bonus point.
The defeat brings about the first blemish on Gary Gold's record as Bath head coach and he will be hoping for an immediate return to form when his side travel to currently winless London Irish next Saturday.
BATH RUGBY: Abendanon, Eastmond, Hipkiss, Williams (Cuthbert 71), Biggs, Barkley, Claassens, James (Catt 62), Mears (Batty 62), Wilson (Perenise 62), Hooper (Attwood 41), Day, Taylor (Ovens 74), Fearns, Skirving. Replacements not used: McMillan, Devoto.
Tries: Abendanon Penalties: Barkley 3
NORTHAMPTON SAINTS: Foden (May 46), Pisi, Waldouck, Burrell, Artemyev, Myler, Dickson, Tonga'uiha (Waller 70), Hartley (Haywood 71), Mercey (Doran-Jones 37), Manoa, Day (Sorenson 62), Dowson, Wood, Oakley (Lawes 56). Replacements not used: Roberts, Lamb.
Penalties: Myler 5 Drop goals: May 1
Referee: Andrew Small