JJ Hanrahan’s late penalty earned Northampton Saints a hard-fought victory over Bath Rugby, as they edged a battle of the set-pieces at the Rec.
The 23-year-old’s kick was all that troubled the scorers in a tense first half of patience and penalties which was just about edged by Northampton’s pack.
And it was Hanrahan who won it for Saints with a long-range penalty eight minutes from time, after Semesa Rokoduguni had cancelled out Luther Burrell’s try in an entertaining second period.
Matt Banahan led the Bath side out on his 201st career appearance, but could not inspire his side in a nip-and-tuck first period.
Anthony Watson’s dink through put Bath deep into Northampton territory on 14 minutes as the hosts put the ball through their hands, but they were penalised for bringing the maul down in Saints’ 22.
Northampton wasted the opportunity to take the lead after 20 minutes with yet another penalty from the scrum, Hanrahan kicking to the corner only for his side to knock the ball back into touch from the front of the lineout.
But five minutes later the visitors made sure to get themselves on the board, when the scrum was reset three times before Northampton were given a penalty.
Hanrahan did the honours and read the wind perfectly to make it 3-0, and after another ten minutes of stop-start action Henry Thomas was finally yellow-carded for persistent infringements in the scrum.
With Bath down to 14 men, Saints hammered away deep in Bath territory, but knocked on perilously close to the line on 38 minutes to see the scoreline stay at 3-0 at the interval.
But the game came to life at the start of the second half with England fly-half George Ford in the thick of the action.
First the Bath man drew the scores level with his first kick at goal of the afternoon, successfully striking the 42nd minute penalty through the posts which were swaying in the wind.
But just five minutes later Ford had his head in his hands as he was caught in possession inside his own half, and under immense Northampton pressure his pass was intercepted by Burrell who ran in under the posts.
Hanrahan made no mistake with the conversion, but Ford did then reduce the arrears on 49 minutes with a penalty when Saints were pinged for illegally playing the ball at the ruck.
Alex Waller came on for brother Ethan after 52 minutes to make Aviva Premiership Rugby history, making his 100th consecutive appearance and becoming the first man to do so.
However there was nothing he could do a minute later to prevent yet another scrum penalty, but Ford’s 47-metre effort fell just short of the posts to keep the score 10-6.
Bath were really starting to hit full steam going forward however, with Watson and Jonathan Joseph breaking well and looking dangerous, and after they were held up on 57 minutes they grabbed their first try five minutes later.
The ball was shipped wide to Rokoduguni and nothing was going to stop the winger going over in the corner, as he swotted Saints skipper Ben Foden aside on his way over the whitewash to touch down.
Ford could not beat the elements and squeeze his conversion through from the touchline, meaning the game was set for a grandstand finish at 11-10 with under ten minutes remaining.
A huge shove from Northampton’s pack once more in the scrum allowed Hanrahan to put his side in front again from distance, and the gamble to kick from that range paid off for the visitors as they dominated possession in the closing stages to secure the narrow victory.