Bath staved off a late fightback from Northampton before claiming a hard-fought 18-14 victory at Franklin’s Gardens on Saturday.
In this season opener at Franklin’s Gardens, Bath went into half-time with a 6-0 lead, George Ford striking twice in a quiet opening. He struck three more after the break, and a steady stream of three pointers ensured Bath grabbed their first win at Northampton since 2000.
A late double from Nic Groom reduced the gap to four, but it came too late, as they had to settle for the defeat.
Boasting an impressive eight wins from their last nine opening ties, Saints started the game the stronger of the two. But despite early pressure on the Bath try-line, the visitors held firm in the first 15 minutes of a tentative start.
They were dealt an injury blow in the form of Taulupe Faletau, who was forced off on his competitive debut – the Welsh international replaced by Tom Ellis.
It took almost half an hour for the first meaningful attempt at breaking the deadlock, but even then the scoreboard wasn’t troubled. Henry Mallinder’s penalty didn’t have the accuracy, flying wide of the posts to keep it scoreless.
But just before the break, Bath took the lead. Ford saw a drop goal attempt strike a post, but he went one better minutes later from a penalty. And before the break, Ford put three more points on the board, putting Bath 6-0 up at the break.
The hosts should have cut that lead in half straight from the restart, only for Mallinder to miss his second penalty of the half right on the clock. Ford continued his impressive performance with the boot early in the second 40, slotting a second penalty through to make it a nine point advantage.
Saints did finally start to cause problems soon after, but never truly looked like breaking the opposition down. With worsening weather, Bath were untroubled defensively since taking the lead, showing up the Saints problems. Another drop goal from Ford – although very scruffy – summed up the hosts performance, as they failed to stop the build up and were duly punished.
Two more penalties for Ford added to the hosts pain, as Bath continued to win penalties with Saints offering very little opening day joy to the home faithful.
The hosts were given a glimmer of hope with just under 10 minutes to go in the form of the first try of the afternoon. Coming after Chris Cook was shown a yellow card, Groom went over for it, with the quick fire conversion from Stephen Myler reducing the arrears to 11.
And the chance to turn the game around suddenly looked far more likely, as they grabbed the second try with two minutes to go. Groom went over again after dancing through challenges, Myler reducing the gap down to just four points. But Bath held on, securing an 18-14 victory.
For Northampton Saints:
Tries: Groom 2
Cons: Myler 2
Pens: Ford 4
Drop goals: Ford 2
Yellow Card: Cook
Northampton Saints: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Ken Pisi, 13 George Pisi, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 Ahsee Tuala, 10 Harry Mallinder, 9 Lee Dickson, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Jamie Gibson, 6 Tom Wood (c), 5 Michael Paterson, 4 Courtney Lawes, 3 Kieran Brookes, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Alex Waller
Replacements: 16 Charlie Clare, 17 Campese Ma’afu, 18 Paul Hill, 19 Sam Dickinson, 20 Teimana Harrison, 21 Nic Groom, 22 Stephen Myler, 23 George North
Bath: 15 Tom Homer, 14 Semesa Rokoduguni, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Max Clark, 11 Matt Banahan, 10 George Ford, 9 Kahn Fotuali’i, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 David Denton, 6 Matt Garvey (c), 5 Dave Attwood, 4 Charlie Ewels, 3 Henry Thomas, 2 Ross Batty, 1 Nathan Catt
Replacements: 16 Tom Dunn, 17 Nick Auterac, 18 Kane Palma-Newport, 19 David Sisi, 20 Tom Ellis, 21 Chris Cook, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 Jeff Williams
Referee: JP Doyle
Assistant Referees: Tim Wigglesworth, Ross Campbell
TMO: David Sainsbury