An elated Todd Blackadder was thoroughly impressed after a professional job from his Bath Rugby side ensured he would take home an 18-14 win in his first Aviva Premiership Rugby fixture at the helm.
In torrential conditions at Northampton Saints, England fly-half George Ford was exceptional with the boot – and after a drop goal and a penalty gave his side a 6-0 half-time lead, he racked up another 12 points in the second period.
Facing a huge deficit with just ten minutes remaining, Saints battled back admirably and Nic Groom twice crossed the whitewash to give them an outside chance.
But Bath clung on for their first win at Franklin’s Gardens in 16 years, and Blackadder insists his side are only looking ahead of them as they look to hit the same heights they did the season before last.
“I’m just so pleased for our players. We had a great week of preparation and I’m delighted for them,” he said.
“In the first half we absorbed so much pressure and George [Ford] kept the scoreboard ticking away. There was a lot of belief at half-time and the first 20 minutes after the break was outstanding.
“I’m impressed with [Ford] as a young man. He’s got great character and showed out there he can put the distractions to one side and get on with his rugby.
“We haven’t talked about the past and last year to this group, and the focus is what the future looks like. It was good that we prepared so well and transferred it to the onfield performance.
“There were a couple of big moments at scrum time when the penalties could’ve gone either way. I thought we put a lot of pressure on their lineout which is one of their weapons.
“But I thought our forward pack worked so hard and I said to the tight five at half time: ‘We’re winning this game because of the hard work you’ve put in’.”
Meanwhile Saints director of rugby Jim Mallinder could scarcely hide his disappointment after the contest.
Mallinder opted to start son Harry – fresh from a successful World Championship campaign with England Under-20s in the summer – ahead of Stephen Myler at fly-half, and the versatile youngster missed two opportunities from the tee in the first period.
But the Saints boss did not believe that was where the game was lost.
“It was very frustrating,” he said. “We had a positive first 20 minutes and showed a bit of attacking intent, but were disappointed not to come away with any points.
“Slowly we lost control of the game and credit to George Ford who, in those conditions, did what he had to do.
“You look for positives in terms of the way we came back in the last 10 minutes, but generally it’s a very disappointing game for us.
“You’ve got to take your opportunities and we had certain chances to get points, whether that’s from the boot or from our set piece, but we just coughed up the ball too easily in those situations.
“[Harry Mallinder] had a few good touches but it’s always going to be tough particularly in conditions like that.
“We haven’t had any rain in training or the games, and it comes down on the first game and it is a completely different game. There were positive aspects.”
Northampton Saints: Foden (North 39), K Pisi, G Pisi (Myler 57), Burrell, Tuala, Mallinder, Dickson (Groom 66), Waller (Ma’afu 61), Hartley (Clare 66), Brookes (Hill 52), Lawes, Paterson (Dickinson 70), Wood, Gibson (Harrison 52), Picamoles.
Bath Rugby: Homer, Rokoduguni, Joseph, Clark, Banahan (Williams 64), Ford, Fotuali’I (Cook 64), Catt (Dunn 64), Batty (Auterac 64), Thomas (Palma-Newport 64), Ewels, Attwood, Garvey, Denton (Priestland 73), Faletau (Ellis 14).
Subs not used: Sisi.
Tries: Groom 2
Conversions: Myler 2
Penalties: Ford 4
Drop-goals: Ford 2
Referee: JP Doyle
Aviva Premiership Rugby returns this weekend. For a full fixture list please click here