Northampton Saints 24 Bristol Bears 26: Tom Vickers' review and player ratings

Saints were left stunned after Bristol scored a late try at Franklin's Gardens (pictures: Kirsty Edmonds)
Saints were left stunned after Bristol scored a late try at Franklin's Gardens (pictures: Kirsty Edmonds)

When Saints sit back and reflect on the season, they will probably be pretty pleased with how they have performed at home.

But two big late blips will haunt them if they don't achieve their aims, with avoidable defeats to Newcastle Falcons and now Bristol Bears blotting their copybook.

Saints were going for their eighth successive home win in all competitions last Saturday, but that went up in smoke as they blew their chance in a crazy final 10 minutes.

First, they saw a penalty that would have put them eight points clear reversed.

Then, when Bristol came knocking, Saints could find no way to deal with the Bears' bite up front.

Instead, the hosts received more cards than some people get on their birthday as referee Christophe Ridley continually penalised them.

Four men trudged to the sin bin as Saints incredibly finished with just 11 men, having conceded a whopping 20 penalties.

Boos rang out at the official's handling of the closing stages, but at the final whistle, Saints knew they only had themselves to blame.

As was the case against Newcastle, they failed to finish off a side with a poor away record - and they paid for it.

Whereas Saints were ruthless in home wins against the likes of Exeter Chiefs and Sale Sharks, they did not bare their teeth late on against the Bears.

And if you give sides a glimmer of hope in this season's Gallagher Premiership, you are sure to be punished.

To Bristol's credit, they started strongly and often showed glimpses of the impressive attacking game they are able to deliver.

They kept going, kept their composure, kept putting pressure on and eventually got their rewards.

Taqele Naiyaravoro led the charge for Saints

Taqele Naiyaravoro led the charge for Saints

In fact, they could have had a penalty try way before the eventually scored and that would have at least given Saints a chance to kick off and try to win the game at the other end.

The referee did make some strange calls in that regard, and particularly at the breakdown, but to lay the blame totally at his door would be unfair.

Saints had chances to kill of their opponents - but they didn't.

And in the end, it cost them what would have been a crucial win during a crucial month in their season.

Had they beaten Bristol, they would have continued to remain on the edge of the top four.

But now they continue to be ensconced n a congested area of the table, which has become even closer because of Newcastle Falcons' back-to-back wins.

So many teams are still not safe.

But Saints will continue to look upwards as they will refuse to believe they are totally out of the top-four picture.

That said, they now need to rebuild ahead of a big run-in, that also sees them compete in the Premiership Rugby Cup final and Challenge Cup quarter-finals.

And to succeed in the games that lie ahead, they must make sure they learn a big lesson from what happened against Bristol on Saturday.

They must get back to finishing strongly, which started to become their hallmark during the superb winning streak at the Gardens.

And there would be no better way for them to get the positivity flowing again than by closing out the job and lifting the Premiership Rugby Cup in the home final on Sunday.

How they rated...

GEORGE FURBANK

Grabbed another try in what has been a superb season for the full-back, who finished with aplomb on this occasion... 7

AHSEE TUALA
Was a real contender for the man of the match award as he displayed speed, style and awareness during a fine try-scoring display... 8

RORY HUTCHINSON
The Premiership player of the month looked sharp in attack again, with one lovely offload leading to a try, but he was given a difficult day in defence by Bristol, missing five tackles... 5

PIERS FRANCIS
Was on kicking duty for Saints and didn't do badly as he showed his worth once again even though Bristol put the centres under pressure... 6

TAQELE NAIYARAVORO - CHRON STAR MAN
Was Saints' brightest spark as he led the charge with some huge carries, constantly bouncing Bristol players away and finishing his try in spectacular fashion... 8

JAMES GRAYSON
Provided two lovely try assists, sending long, accurate passes out wide for Naiyaravoro and Tuala to score... 7

COBUS REINACH
Grabbed his now customary intercept try to bag Saints a bonus-point but couldn't help his team keep their cool in the closing stages and his sin-binning encouraged Bristol... 6

FRANCOIS VAN WYK
Conceded a couple of penalties but had largely done well before being replaced during the second half... 6

REECE MARSHALL
Was accurate with most lineouts, with only one going astray in tricky conditions, and put plenty of energy into his performance again... 6

PAUL HILL
A determined showing from the tighthead prop as he flew around the field, trying to make tackles, though he did miss a couple... 6

API RATUNIYARAWA
Stepped in at late notice after David Ribbans was ruled out with an ankle injury and carried hard for his team... 6

ALEX MOON
Made some big bursts for Saints, pushing Bristol back, but he couldn't help his team get over the line late on... 7

TOM WOOD
Had enjoyed a strong game for Saints but his tackle off the ball on Callum Sheedy proved costly and Wood was sin-binned late on... 5

LEWIS LUDLAM
As ever, this man got through plenty of work in the bid to thwart Bristol, topping Saints' tackle count again... 7

MITCH EADIE
Relished the battle with his former club and clearly enjoyed getting some rare game time, but couldn't end up on the winning side... 6

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

JAMES FISH (for Marshall 56)

Came on at a time when Saints were really starting to get a grip of the game, but it eventually slid from their grasp, even though he did little wrong... 6

Piers Francis celebrated with George Furbank

Piers Francis celebrated with George Furbank

Cobus Reinach was on the scoresheet again

Cobus Reinach was on the scoresheet again

Cobus Reinach scored the bonus-point try for Saints

Cobus Reinach scored the bonus-point try for Saints