Super Saints too good for Bristol Bears

‘Just keep winning’ has become Northampton Saints’ mantra as the marathon of the season turns into a sprint for the Premiership play-offs and they kept on track with a stylish 39-22 victory over Bristol Bears.

By Matt Wright
Saturday, 2nd April 2022, 5:48 pm
Tom Collins of Northampton Saints scores their fifth try during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match against Bristol Bears at Franklin's Gardens
Tom Collins of Northampton Saints scores their fifth try during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match against Bristol Bears at Franklin's Gardens

Two tries by Tom Collins, plus further scores by Rory Hutchinson, captain Lewis Ludlam and Tommy Freeman helped Saints towards their third win on the spin, and their fifth in all competitions.

Results elsewhere mean that although they remain four points behind fourth-placed Exeter Chiefs, albeit with a game in hand, they are now up to fifth in the table.

Chances were not taken initially at Franklin’s Gardens, but while this would have previously led to their frustration getting the better of them, Saints hardened their resolve this time to ensure an entertaining contest went their way.

Sign up to our daily Daventry Express Today newsletter

Callum Sheedy of Bristol Bears dives in to score their second try during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match against Saints

There was also a Premiership debut for 19-year-old George Hendy for good measure as one for the future gets involved in what is an absorbing present.

Saints were on the front foot early on, winning a couple of penalties that were kicked to the corner, with Juarno Augustus being held up in-goal following the second of these as a driving maul tried to barge its way over.

Instead, it was Bristol who opened the scoring in the seventh minute when Chris Vui’s pass put Harry Thacker into space down the left-hand side and, with the hosts sliced open, he timed his pass to put Semi Radradra in the clear.

Callum Sheedy miscued his conversion wide, but it was a hugely frustrating score to concede for Northampton, who otherwise dominated the first 15 minutes.

A chip-and-chase by Freeman down the right almost came off as he was beaten to the ball by Alapati Leiua, who then tackled Ludlam into touch in-goal after he had peeled off the back of a maul.

After these near-misses, Dan Biggar put Saints on the board with a simple penalty in front of the posts, but the fly-half was lucky not to see a card for a high hit on Radradra in the 18th minute.

That happened in the build-up to the Bears having a try ruled out by a clear forward pass by their skipper Joe Joyce which put Thacker under the posts.

But there was more frustration for Northampton when Tommy Freeman gathered Biggar’s cross-field pass before nudging past Leiua, but he put a heel into touch before the act of ‘scoring.’

It was third time lucky, however, as the hosts struck with a slick first-phase move from a line-out as Alex Mitchell passed to Hutchinson, who timed his ball outside to send Collins clear to score.

Three minutes later, Northampton were over again as more quick handling by Mitchell and Courtney Lawes meant Hutchinson was this time the man to finish, as the centre went in under the posts.

Biggar converted both scores for a 17-5 lead, but Bristol hit back when Sheedy squeezed over in the corner after pouncing on Antione Frisch’s loose off-load.

The action was unrelenting now and Saints had their third try when, playing off advantage, George Furbank did well to off-load for Ludlam, who powered his way over via a combination of his own determination and some flimsy defence.

There was still time for the Bears to force their way back into the game again just before the break as loosehead Yann Thomas plunging over following a succession of pick-and-go drives.

Sheedy’s conversion took the score to 24-17 at half-time, with conditions taking a turn for the worse by the time the second half got under way.

Northampton continued to press regardless, and they extended their lead to 10 points when Biggar slotted a penalty from in front of the posts.

The bonus point was then in the bag in the 55th minute when Fraser Dingwall did well to off-load for Hutchinson, who managed to get his pass away for Freeman to score under the posts.

To make matters worse for Bristol, they had Radradra sent to the sin bin for a no-arms tackle on Biggar in the build-up.

He was then joined there four minutes later by Fitz Harding, and rightly so, for a dangerous high tackle on Dingwall, leaving the Bears down to 13 men.

Within a minute, they were breached when the ball was moved left to Freeman, whose pass put Collins in all kinds of space to finish for his second try of the afternoon.

As Radradra returned, Paul Hill departed as the Saints tighthead was yellow-carded for a deliberate knock-on near the touchline.

While he was off the field, the visitors claimed a try-bonus of their own when Leiua was put into the corner by Luke Morahan’s pass, but it barely broke Northampton from their stride, which is fast developing into a march.

Teams

Saints: Furbank (Proctor 46), Freeman, Dingwall (Hendy 71), Hutchinson, Collins, Biggar, Mitchell (James 62), Waller (Auterac 56), S Matavesi (Haywood 62), Hill, Ribbans (Coles 54), Ratuniyarawa (Moon 39), Lawes, Ludlam (c), Augustus (Carey 69-77)

Bristol: Piutau (O’Conor 58), Naulago (Morahan 30), Radradra, Frisch, Leiua, Sheedy (Eden 52), Uren (Randall 52), Y Thomas (Woolmore 73), Thacker (Kerr 62), Afoa (Armstrong 60), Attwood, Joyce, Vui, Heenan (Jeffries 48), Harding