Bath 13 Northampton Saints 21 - Tom Vickers’ view and player ratings
The Under 18s may have seen their league crown snatched away from them by a late Saracens try on Monday evening, but there was a far more important result to come at The Rec on Saturday.
Academy graduates Jamie Elliott, Mike Haywood and Tom Stephenson sparkled for the senior side, who secured a stunning success at the home of their closest rivals for the place at the Aviva Premiership summit.
A potent combination of character, bravery and ballast ensured Jim Mallinder’s men moved nine points clear with seven games to go.
And though it was a stellar team showing, it was hard not to pick out three players made in Northampton.
Elliott was electric throughout, excelling in defence and attack as he smashed Semesa Rokoduguni in the wing battle.
The diminutive Saint stood his ground superbly against a sizeable wide man who had been playing his part for England in the autumn.
Then there was Haywood: a hooker who doesn’t get half the attention he deserves.
Maybe it is because the man who usually occupies the Saints No.2 shirt outside of international windows is Dylan Hartley, club captain and England stalwart.
But Haywood is worthy of plenty of praise with his dynamic play - as showcased by his fleet-footed score in this encounter - so important to Saints.
And finally: Stephenson.
The 20-year-old centre is building a big reputation for himself and on this occasion he outclassed a man who already has one: Sam Burgess.
Burgess may have the backing of old pal Russell Crowe, but if the New Zealand-born actor was watching this game he will have seen only one winner in the battle to take centre stage.
This victory was an Academy award for Saints, a glowing representation of the work that is being done behind the scenes at Franklin’s Gardens.
That application, allied with a plethora of astute signings during the past few seasons, has catapulted Northampton to the top of the standings.
It is why they are champions, and why they are now favourites to claim that title again this season.
Squad depth is so vital in the race for a top-two place and Saints have built a sea of options as vast as the Atlantic ocean.
They have used the salary cap wisely and their ability to do so has been enhanced hugely by the continual emergence of home-grown players with a passion and propensity to win games.
The results are there for all to see, with Saints having played two Premiership games during the Six Nations so far, winning both.
They scrapped over the line against London Irish last week, then turned in a big performance when it mattered most.
Last year, they won all four league games during this period, and they are on course to do so again this time round.
These days, Saints don’t worry about international windows.
They don’t worry about losing Hartley, Luther Burrell, George North, Courtney Lawes, Tom Wood and Ben Foden.
Because they have a crop of players with a winning mentality.
And what best emphasises their development is a quick look back to what happened on the corresponding weekend in 2011.
Bath, buoyed by a blitz of tries by Matt Banahan, blew Saints away at The Rec.
The 38-8 success was richly deserved and displayed a paucity of options in a Northampton squad which struggled when shorn of its internationals stars.
On that day, the likes of Brett Sharman, Greig Tonks and Scott Armstrong were called for, with Hartley, Foden and Chris Ashton among those away with England.
And they were found wanting, in a large way.
Four years later, that remains the last time Bath beat Northampton.
How they rated...
Showed good strength to score the try that got Saints up and running and was assured all afternoon... 8
The Samoan wing made a trademark telling break or two and always kept Bath on their toes... 7
Late yellow card aside, this was another performance packed with power and panache as he refused to give Bath a second to breathe... 7
More of his standard silky footwork, with one piece of brilliance creating the try for Wilson. He was a menace all day and defended well, too... 8
JAMIE ELLIOTT - CHRON STAR MAN
An exceptional all-round display from the wing, who made some crucial hits, attacked with verve and also threw in a booming kick or two for good measure... 9
Overcame a couple of early misses to produce the kind of assured performance Saints supporters have become accustomed to... 8
Was named skipper for the day and kept the tempo high as Saints bounced back from an early setback... 7
Did well in open play but didn’t have it all his own way in the scrum and was replaced by Alex Corbisiero just as he was starting to turn the tide... 7
A dynamic display from the hooker, who just gets better and better. Having carried and tackled well, he even showcased his speed to burst over for a deserved score... 8
Was involved in an intriguing scrum battle with the experienced Paul James and stood his ground to help Saints to victory... 7
One Saint who may not have enjoyed his afternoon as he saw his side go 10-0 down before being forced off with a head injury... 6
His experience of these sort of occasions is there for all to see as he kept Saints on the right track and made some crucial interventions... 7
Switched to the flank and played his natural power game, carrying well, pushing Bath back on a regular basis... 8
Just oozes desire and ability, making vital contributions all over the park with a work rate that is second to none... 8
Clearly enjoys life far more at No.8 than in the second row and his strength was troublesome for the home side... 7
Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)
PHIL DOWSON (for Craig 30)
Has played a lot of rugby recently, but showed no signs of weariness after coming off the bench before half-time and putting in another big shift... 7
ALEX CORBISIERO (for A Waller 50)
Helped Saints turn up the heat on Bath in the scrum battle and his know-how was key in seeing the game out... 7