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Match Reaction: Northampton Saints 24-26 Bristol Bears

Match Reaction: Northampton Saints 24-26 Bristol Bears

This isn’t a contest that will be forgotten in a hurry as the last-gasp drama of Bristol Bears’ victory left Northampton Saints director of rugby Chris Boyd admitting he had never seen such a crazy finish to a game before.

That’s because, leading by five points, Saints were reduced to 11 men due to the sin-binnings of Cobus Reinach, Jamie Gibson, Tom Wood and Alex Waller in the closing stages as Bristol desperately sought a match-winning try.

And with the clock deep into the red, the Bears finally made the most of their four-man advantage as Pier O’Conor scored on the overlap and Ian Madigan demonstrated the ice in his veins to knock through the conversion for a 26-24 win.

It was a huge five points for Bristol, who are now within striking distance of the top six, and they had led 12-5 at the interval with tries from Joe Batley and Jordan Crane with Taqele Naiyaravoro responding for the hosts.

Scores by Ahsee Tuala and George Furbank just after the break turned things around and after Harry Randall and Reinach then exchanged tries to leave Northampton 24-19 up on 70 minutes, the late drama ensued.

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MAN OF THE MATCH – Piers O’Conor, Bristol Bears

Taqele Naiyaravoro was absolutely sensational for Northampton, battering through the Bristol defence time and again – ending with incredible statistics including 197 metres made on 14 carries and beating 12 defenders.

But O’Conor led Bristol to a win with a superb all-round display in the centres. He made a superb break and fed Harry Randall for a score under the sticks but saved his best for last as he crossed for the match-winning try.

He made 63 metres on six carries in total and beat three defenders, as well as completing 11 tackles, but it was his last-gasp exploits that earned him the honour.

TRY OF THE MATCH

Joe Batley went over for his first Gallagher Premiership Rugby try after just four minutes to give Bristol the perfect start and it was a sumptuous score.

Beginning inside their own half, the Bears went through the hands and when they were stopped just inside the 22, the ball was worked to the left touchline.

There, the second-rowers combined as Chris Vui offloaded out of the tackle to Batley who cantered over.

MOMENT OF THE MATCH

It can only be the incredible late drama, culminating in the last-gasp try for O’Conor and Ian Madigan’s subsequent conversion.

With Saints down to 11 men, Bristol unsurprisingly had a huge overlap and Harry Randall made the correct decision from the base of a scrum to go left, where Madigan launched a miss pass out to O’Conor who had enough pace to get outside the defence and slide over.

That left Madigan with a conversion to turn a draw into a win and he held his nerve to slot it between the uprights and send the Bears players into raptures.

WHAT THEY SAID

Bristol Bears head coach Pat Lam: “I thought the last 15 minutes we managed really well. And that was without Jordan Crane and Charles Piutau.

“Siale Piutau, Steven Luatua, Chris Vui, Callum Sheedy – all the key guys I thought managed it really well.

“It was nine or ten penalties in that far corner, on any other given day it would have been a penalty try but I thought the composure of the guys and the decision-making at that last scrum was good.

“Mads [Ian Madigan] is world class at goal-kicking and he got us the five points. We are five points away from fifth and the top six is a reality for us.”

 Northampton Saints director of rugby Chris Boyd: “I haven’t seen anything like that finish before. I need to put the five minutes out of my mind otherwise it will haunt me for ever.

“What irritated me more was the 15 or 20 minutes leading up to that final five minutes when we had the game under control. We got ourselves in a situation to put them away and we didn’t.

“It was a succession of poor bits of skill and very dumb decisions that cost us and gave them opportunities to get back in the game.

“Credit to Bristol, but it’s a game that we’ve lost. We worked our way back into it and got ourselves into a reasonable position but we kept insisting on being somewhere between stupid and embarrassing.”

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