Second-half replacement Mark Easter, who was handed a full contract by Northampton last week, celebrated with the winning try against Bathin the GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP on Saturday. Saints were trailing 21-19 with five minutes to go when 23-year-old Easter, recruited to the club’s academy from Nottingham last summer, crashed over in the left corner.
After leading 14-5 at half-time, Northampton appeared to have fallen victim to a powerful second-half forward display from Bath who were sparked by the half-time switch of Olly Barkley to fly-half.
But the Saints had the final say with Easter’s late try providing the important bonus point as they continued their late season charge for a place in the Guinness Premiership play-offs.
Full-back Bruce Reihana contributed 14 of the Northampton points, with two tries and two conversions, with England winger Ben Cohen also touching down.
But it was once again Carlos Spencer, the former All-Black fly-half magician, who conjured up all four Northampton tries.
The Saints were on the back foot in the opening stages with only Cohen’s desperate last-ditch tackle on Andy Higgins by the right-hand corner flag denying them a first-minute try.
The visitors struck the opening blow in the 19th minute when fly-half Chris Malone’s short pass put powerhouse left wing Salesi Finau over in the right corner.
But Northampton hit back with Spencer’s electric 40-metre burst splitting the Bath defence before he provided a superb inside pass to send fellow Kiwi Reihana in after 27 minutes.
Six minutes later Spencer’s quick pass enabled centres David Quinlan and Jon Clarke to provide the space for Cohen to dive over in the left corner and, with Reihana converting both tries, the Saints led 14-5 at the interval.
Barkley’s move to fly-half, following the half-time withdrawal of Malone, reignited Bath.
Barkley, seen as the answer to England’s inside-centre problem for this summer’s tour to Australia after he missed the Six Nations Championship with a broken thumb, looked much more influential at half back.
He triggered a wave of attacks and also supplied full-back Joe Maddock for his 47th-minute try following a quickly taken tap penalty by scrum-half Andy Williams who burst through the Northampton defence from the halfway line.
Barkley weighed in with 11 points, converting Maddock’s try and kicking three penalties.
Reihana’s second touchdown for Saints, in the 51st minute, was down to Spencer. He figured twice, starting the move with an incisive pass to release number eight Daniel Browne before popping up again to provide the full-back with the final pass.
That briefly restored the Northampton lead at 19-15, and after Barkley kicked Bath back in front, Spencer was involved again before Easter struck the decisive blow.
Bath, despite dominating much of the second half, had to settle for a consolation bonus point, which leaves them still not mathematically certain of avoiding relegation.