Bristol Bears 20 Northampton Saints 36: Tom Vickers' review and player ratings

The old saying goes that you can only beat what's in front of you.

Saturday, 27th November 2021, 10:26 am
Lewis Ludlam on the charge at Ashton Gate

And in Bristol on Friday night, Saints didn't just beat the Bears, they beat them up.

Because at scrum time, this was a black, green and gold demolition not seen since the days of the much-feared Tonga'uiha-Hartley-Mujati front row.

Bristol, shorn of key men such as Kyle Sinckler and John Afoa were lambs to the slaughter as Saints put them to the sword under the lights.

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Tommy Freeman scored twice

Chris Boyd expressed sympathy for the hosts during his post-match interview, preferring not to revel in what was a sweet success.

He pointed out the injuries and unavailability that led to Bristol's scrum struggles.

But Saints still had to turn the screw - and turn it they did.

Time after time, we were reminded of just what a weapon the scrum can be.

Dan Biggar was back in action for Saints

Saints went after the Bears, hunting them in blood-thirsty fashion and forcing referee Karl Dickson to give penalty after penalty.

Eventually, replacement prop George Kloska was sin-binned, paying the price for his side's persistent offending.

And Saints went on to finish the job, securing a bonus-point success that propelled them into the Gallagher Premiership top four.

They needed to go to Bristol and put down a marker.

Saints were fully loaded with their international stars back, while Bristol were missing so many of their main men.

And eventually class told.

Saints dominated for long periods, winning a plethora of penalties on Bristol ball at the scrum and stopping them at source at the breakdown.

The Bears, a side who, like Saints, thrive from quick ball, were deprived of it.

And Saints finally pulled away, with Alex Mitchell delivering a couple of moments of magic during the second half to help secure the tries that made sure of the win and the full five points.

This was an exhibition of just how important the set piece can be if used correctly.

And it was something Saints will have to take forward as they battle a Bath team who love a battle up front and who will be buoyed by a big performance against Exeter Chiefs.

Saints needed two wins from two before going into Europe if they were to show they are serious about contending for the title this season.

Part one has been completed in some style.

Now it's back to Northampton for part two.

How they rated...

GEORGE FURBANK

Had a huge influence on this game as his fast footwork helped to set up the Hill score, and he added one of his own in the second half... 8.5

TOMMY FREEMAN

His two tries were finishes that showed his skill, awareness and speed, and this was yet another reminder of what a huge present and future this young man has... 9

MATT PROCTOR

What a boost for Saints to have this man back at centre. He bounces off players with ball in hand and is tenacious in defence... 8

FRASER DINGWALL

Got caught on one occasion inside his own half but was largely good and he continues to show he is an important player in this team... 7.5

COURTNALL SKOSAN

Didn't get the ball in really dangerous attacking areas as much as he would have liked but he still made an impact... 7

DAN BIGGAR

Aside from a couple of missed kicks from tricky positions and one from hand that put Saints in a bit of trouble, this was another hugely accomplished showing from a crucial cog in the wheel... 8

ALEX MITCHELL

Two moments of magic during the second half as he set up tries for Freeman and Furbank. He timed the runs and the final pass perfectly on both occasions as he oozed class... 9

ALEX WALLER

A big showing from the experienced prop as he showed power and nous against the Bristol pack... 8.5

JAMES FISH

A really good all-round showing from the hooker who has stated his case for more game time in the weeks to come... 8.5

PAUL HILL

Powered over for a try and completed 71 minutes in a huge showing that helped Saints dominate at scrum time... 9

DAVID RIBBANS

This was more like the David Ribbans of last season as he powered forward, relishing the physical battle while also keeping the lineout secure... 8.5

ALEX MOON

A really strong shift from the lock, who was desperate to make inroads for his team, carrying time after time as he tried to knock down the door... 8

COURTNEY LAWES

Delivered a lovely back-door pass that was key in Furbank's try and this was a typically huge showing from the recent England captain... 8.5

LEWIS LUDLAM - CHRON STAR MAN

This man was clearly hungry for action, and what a performance this was. He intervened when needed in defence, winning key penalties, and powered forward time after time in attack... 9

JUARNO AUGUSTUS

An absolute menace, particularly during the first half as he opened doors that others couldn't, and he looks like a fantastic signing... 8.5

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

SAM MATAVESI (for Fish 57)

Helped Saints to maintain their scrum dominance and they didn't lose anything in the lineout when he came on either... 7.5

API RATUNIYARAWA (for Moon 57)

A decent cameo from the Fiji star as he helped Saints to maintain their physicality and energy to pull away from Bristol... 7