Todd Blackadder celebrated a dream start to life in Aviva Premiership Rugby, although he was made to sweat in the closing stages as his Bath Rugby side beat Northampton Saints at Franklin’s Gardens.
England fly-half George Ford was exceptional from the tee, the Bath No.10 slotting a penalty and a drop goal for a 6-0 half-time lead.
Ford took the lead out to 18 points with ten minutes remaining after three more flawless penalties and a drop goal, but the hosts did not go down without a fight as two late Nic Groom scores brought the Saints roaring back.
But Bath deservedly hung on to take the spoils and win at Franklin’s Gardens for the first time in 16 years.
The hosts had the better of the early pressure without turning their territorial advantage into anything tangible, as the odd handling error counted against them.
There were signs of what the next few months will bring at Franklin’s Gardens following the arrival of Frenchman Louis Picamoles with repeated attacks on the gain line being made via the No.8’s hands.
But by and large the opening quarter was fairly scrappy with the kicking games of both Harry Mallinder and Ford initially lacking accuracy and penetration.
The first scoring attempt didn’t arrive until the 25th minute when Mallinder, preferred ahead of Stephen Myler at fly-half, pushed a long-range penalty wide of the posts.
Bath were hardly helped by the early departure of Taulupe Faletau courtesy of a knee injury, and while their pack lacked the thrust of their Northampton counterparts, they retained a threat on the counter attack when the hosts’ handling let them down.
Slightly against the run of play, Bath opened the scoring in the latter stages of the half when, having hit the upright with a drop-goal attempt, Ford found his range from 35 yards out when play was brought back for a Northampton infringement.
With the momentum gradually moving into Bath’s favour despite rarely venturing anywhere near the try line, Ford – whose tactical kicking was now rid of any rustiness – doubled the lead with a neatly executed drop-goal a few minutes later.
But Mallinder was not firing on all cylinders from the tee and a straightforward penalty from 30 yards was sent in the same direction as his first effort.
The six-point advantage became nine shortly after the interval when Ford added a second penalty to his tally, as Northampton were penalised at a scrum bang in front. Bath, now two scores to the good, looked all the brighter for it.
A strong break by Semesa Rokoduguni from deep in his own half broke down on halfway as he ran into Mallinder rather than backing himself in a foot race, but it provided evidence that the contest was starting to open up.
Ford was doing a thoroughly professional job of controlling proceedings in the torrential conditions, and doubled his number of drop-goals for the afternoon as he skidded one low over the crossbar following a well-worked move in midfield.
And his personal contribution increased again not long afterwards when penalties number three and four were sent over.
Both sides made a raft of changes heading into the final quarter and the fresh burst of energy finally gave the healthy home crowd something to shout about when substitute Groom pierced the Bath defence from close range.
The debutant notched a second a minute from time as Northampton worked an opening on the right hand side – Myler again converting – but it was too little, too late for the Saints.
Aviva Premiership Rugby returns this weekend. For a full fixture list please click here