Planet Rugby

Cardiff glory for Northampton

23rd May 2014 21:52

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tom wood phil dowson northampton saints challenge cup final

One down: Northampton Saints

Northampton kept their chances of domestic-European double alive after lifting the Challenge Cup in Cardiff by beating Bath 30-16.

The stellar soundtrack provided by Toulon's marching band was a fine backdrop to a fine contest.

While Northampton had been emotionally exhausted in their win over Leicester last Friday, Bath had relaxed. It showed early on in the way they threw the kitchen sink at their opponents. Northampton, absorbing the pressure, then repelled in uncompromising fashion.

After last week's heroics and with the Premiership Final to come next weekend, perhaps Northampton might have wished for a comfortable victory in Wales.

Another half-time inspirational blasting from Jim Mallinder was required though to bring them back into contention and then ultimately deliver the lead and the trophy. They owe a fair chunk of it to the excellent kicking performance of Stephen Myler.

George Ford's tactical kicking in the opening quarter was of the highest order, the young England fly-half prodding the ball into the corners as if he had it on a string. His first 40 minutes were exemplary, the second a reminder of the learning he has to do ahead.

His pack came close to settling any early jitters when their rumbling maul crashed over the line, but the TMO was unable to confirm a try.

Oddly enough though Bath's try came completely against the run of play.

Northampton's big carriers - Samu Manoa, Courtney Lawes and Luther Burrell - were bashing the way forward but when Ken Pisi was put under pressure by the defence of Jonathan Joseph, Watson scooped up the loose ball on the side of the ruck and sprinted away to score untouched. One for the defensive enthusiasts.

Northampton had to be patient. It was a virtue that yielded the right result against Leicester, but the pressure of a cup final is an even greater nemesis.

Especially when you remember that their recent record in finals is not as strong as they might have liked, with the Millennium Stadium looming overhead as reminder of 2011 and Leinster. This success will have gone some way, but not all of it, to put those demons to bed.

The thumping into touch of George North by Semesa Rokoduguni was a fine example of Bath's early imposing defensive effort, taking no prisoners. They swarmed, harassed and harried Saints into continuous errors, but it was the reverse in the second half.

Tom Wood's early tackle could have cost his side considerably, but Ford was unable to add the three points to leave Bath's lead sitting at seven at half-time.

Alex Corbisiero's yellow card at the beginning of the second half should have made Saints' challenge more difficult, but Bath were wavering.

Ford's radar went offline as he missed two more shots at goal, Bath unable to benefit from the outstanding breakdown work of Francois Louw.

Myler made him pay by landing three in a row, little mistakes handicapping Bath's efforts as their composure disintegrated, piling errors on top of one another.

The impact of Kahn Fotuali'i was enormous, the Samoan's kicking game creating confusion between Ford and Nick Abendanon.

All of a sudden from 13-6 down at the interval, Northampton were ahead 13-18 going into the final quarter.

Bath needed Ford to recover his kicking whereabouts, opting not to use the boot of Gavin Henson, with the youngster responding to cut the deficit to two.

Momentum though was flying behind Northampton, whose faith in their rolling maul remained strong; so strong in fact that a kickable penalty was turned down in favour of going for the corner.

Front row forwards find themselves out on the wing more often these days, but Alex Waller may shy away from that spot after failing to catch a pass in a simple two-on-one with the line at his mercy.

The wait for more points though was short. Anthony Perenise was marched to the sin-bin and from another maul, taken high by Wood and then worked around probing for the weak spot, Phil Dowson crashed over for Northampton's first try.

Trailing by nine points with as many minutes left, the air had been taken from Bath's lungs after so much promise in the first half. They completely lost their grip on the contest.

Northampton eventually capped it with another try, Ben Foden the scorer after Luther Burrell somehow didn't finish when held up over the line following Myler's length of the field interception.

It was a fitting end, another impressive second half showing from Northampton tucked under their belts. They may need one more next week at Twickenham. For now, the celebrations into the night in Cardiff begin.

The scorers:

For Bath:
Try: Watson
Con: Ford
Pens: Ford 3
Yellow Card: Perenise

For Northampton:
Tries: Dowson, Foden
Con: Myler
Pens: Myler 6
Yellow Card: Corbisiero

Bath: 15 Nick Abendanon, 14 Semesa Rokoduguni, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Ollie Devoto, 11 Anthony Watson, 10 George Ford, 9 Micky Young, 8 Leroy Houston, 7 Francois Louw, 6 Carl Fearns, 5 Dave Attwood, 4 Stuart Hooper, 3 David Wilson, 2 Tom Dunn, 1 Paul James
Replacements: 16 Eusebio Guinazu, 17 Nathan Catt, 18 Anthony Perenise, 19 Dominic Day, 20 Guy Mercer, 21 Peter Stringer, 22 Gavin Henson, 23 Horacio Agulla

Northampton: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Ken Pisi, 13 George Pisi, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 George North, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Lee Dickson, 8 Sam Dickinson, 7 Tom Wood, 6 Calum Clark, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Samu Manoa, 3 Tom Mercey, 2 Mike Haywood, 1 Alex Corbisiero
Replacements: 16 Ross McMillan, 17 Alex Waller, 18 Gareth Denman, 19 Christian Day, 20 Phil Dowson, 21 Kahn Fotuali'i, 22 James Wilson, 23 Tom Stephenson

Date: Friday, May 23
Venue: Arms Park, Cardiff
Kickoff: 20:00 (local, 19:00 GMT)
Referee: Jerome Garces (Fra)
Assistant Referees: Romain Poite, Pascal Gauzere (both Fra)
TMO: Eric Gauzins (Fra)

by Ben Coles

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