First-team coach Alan Dickens believes the improvements made by Bristol Rugby in recent weeks are plain to see, despite his Northampton Saints side coming out on top in Saturday’s clash.
Saints picked themselves up a bonus-point win at Franklin’s Gardens courtesy of tries from Louis Picamoles, Mike Haywood, Tom Wood and JJ Hanrahan.
However they were not completely in charge as Bristol – who came into the match with back-to-back Aviva Premiership Rugby wins under therr belt – kept themselves in touch, thanks in no small part to the performance of Jason Woodward.
— Northampton Saints (@SaintsRugby) January 7, 2017
The two sides had been locked at 26 apiece heading into the closing stages before a Stephen Myler penalty and then a late Harry Mallinder drop goal clinched the win for Saints.
And while they closed the gap on fourth-place Bath in the table, Dickens was under no illusions that his players had been made to work hard for their latest win.
“There was an air of frustration afterwards, but we will take the win,” he said.
“When we scored our third try there was a time where we thought we were going to go away from them and then we lost the ball about 30 metres from their line, it might have been Alex Waller, and from the resulting scrum they had the chip-kick and scored under our posts.
— Courtney Lawes (@Courtney_Lawes) January 7, 2017
“Credit to Bristol, they are a much-improved team from the one we beat in the second game of the season. Fair play to the job Mark Tainton has done over recent weeks.
“They have picked a more mobile team and Woodward is an addition for them, plus they are getting the best out of Tom Varndell, they looked to feed those two today and it nearly paid off.”
Visiting Bristol can take plenty of positives out of their performance as they refused to crumble, despite Northampton keeping the scoreboard ticking over.
The guts and fight shown by everybody in this #BristolRugby squad right now. 👌👌
— Bristol Rugby (@Bristol_RFC) January 7, 2017
Even with the win seemingly out of their grasp, they held on to secure a losing bonus point and move to within a point of second bottom Worcester Warriors, who lost 55-19 to Gloucester Rugby.
And acting head coach Tainton was proud of his players’ efforts despite not getting the result they were after.
“It is a massive point. It is down to us, we can’t rely on other people and we will just try to improve each week and concentrate on what we are doing,” he said.
“The team have got belief now and with that comes confidence. When you have got confidence you can achieve anything and we nearly achieved something special this evening. We have got the point, we are disappointed we didn’t get more, but we will take that with where we are.
“We played some really good attacking football and our defence was solid. We were probably second best in the breakdown at a number of occasions, and it allowed Northampton to pinch ball and get them field position again. If you allow Northampton field position they will eventually score points, but I am proud of the performance.”
Northampton Saints 32
Tries: Haywood, Wood, Picamoles, Hanrahan
Conv: Myler (3)
Bristol Rugby 26
Tries: Eadie, Woodward
Conv: Woodward (2)
Pens: Woodward (4)
Northampton Saints: Foden, Elliott (Estelles 12), Burrell, Hanrahan (Mallinder 65), North, Myler, Groom (Dickson 69), A Waller (E Waller 68), Haywood, Brookes (Hill 61), Lawes, Day (Craig 67), Wood, Harrison, Picamoles (Gibson 65)
Subs not used: Clare
Bristol Rugby: Woodward, Wallace, Palamo (Arscott 69), Hurrell, Varndell, Jarvis (Searle 62), Cliff (Williams 62), Traynor (Bevington 62), Hawkins (Crumpton 58), Ford-Robinson (Cortes 62), Tuohy, Glynn (Sorenson 58), Fenton-Wells (Lam 65), Robinson, Eadie
Referee: Andrew Jackson