Bath claim a 32-9 victory over Northampton Saints at the Recreation ground.
Bath celebrate a 32-9 home victory over Northampton Saints, showing an impressive ability to adapt to a poor first-half performance.
The West Country side started the game with an indisciplined performance that allowed a visiting Saints side to gain both field territory and points. Bath conceded a staggering seven penalties in little over 15 minutes, handing their opposition the reigns.
Saints were proving to be the more creative and cohesive of the two sides, breaking the gain line with almost every carry. This was something their hosts were unable to replicate and struggled to get the better of a smaller, more mobile Saints pack. Fortunately for Bath, Northampton repeatedly handed over possession from promising attacking opportunities. Three times in the first half they knocked the ball on from the lineout, allowing Bath to clear their lines and suffer minimal consequences from a high penalty count.
By the 30th minute, Saints' dominance turned sour, with flankers Jamie Gibson and Tom Wood giving away penalties that allowed Bath fly-half Freddie Burns to equalise the score at two penalties a piece.
Yet another handling error between centre Tom Stephenson and fly-half Piers Francis saw a Jonny Sexton-esque loop pass thrown to ground. Bath centre Ben Tapuai put boot to ball and allowed Matt Banahan to pounce. The 6ft 7" Gloucester-bound wing showed some exquisite footwork to bamboozle his opposite man and cross over for the game's opening try in the fying seconds of the first-half.
The sides headed into the changing room at 16-6 to Bath, with the home side fortunate that their errors weren't punished as mercilessly as they should have been. Saints needed to tidy up their handling to fix an otherwise dominant performance, while Bath required an improvement in discipline and a lift in physicality to break the gain line in the same manner as their opponents.
Northampton and Bath suffered very different fates in the second half. Where the former seemed to start on a high and slowly deteriorate as the night went on, the latter addressed their errors and went on to narrowly miss out on a bonus point victory.
The physical dominance and cohesiveness in attack Saints had shown in the first half began to fade as frustration levels rose. Repetitive handling errors and Bath's step up in physicality knocked them off their stride, seemingly losing the focus shown in the first 40.
Knock-ons at their own lineout were a plague for Northampton, throwing away promising field position and attacking opportunities repetitively.
Bath stemmed their hemorrhage of penalties and stepped up their physicality and accuracy, with the likes of number eight James Phillips, centre Will Hurrell and hooker Tom Dunn proving the type of workmanlike figures that glue a team together.
The return to fitness of frontrow duo Ross Batty and Henry Thomas will lift Bath spirits, with both men helping to flip Saints ascendancy at the scrum on its head while also proving invaluable in the tight.
Short-term signing Hurrell showed an impressive level of physicality on both sides of the ball. On loan from Bristol for the remainder of the season, the 28-year-old centre earned the hard yards ball-in-hand and put in a serious punch in defence.
Northampton boss Alan Gaffney will be disappointed with the manner in which his side capitulated following a promising period in the Anglo-Welsh cup of late. They host London Irish at Franklins Gardens next week and will look to regain momentum against the bottom of the table side.
Bath head to Newcastle buoyant from their victory and will look to avoid repeating today's first-half discrepancies. Director of Rugby Todd Blackadder commented on the fact that his side overcommitted at the breakdown during the first-half and acknowledged the costly penalty count.
Bath have struggled to back up their convincing victories in consecutive weeks this season and with Newcastle Falcons flying high, they face a significant challenge on an artificial surface up north.