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Match Report: Bristol Bears 40-45 Northampton Saints

29 Sep 2018
Match Report: Bristol Bears 40-45 Northampton Saints

Northampton Saints experienced the joy of six as they extended their decade-long winning streak over Bristol Bears for a second Gallagher Premiership Rugby win of the season.

Both sides picked up try bonus points but Saints crossed the whitewash on six occasions in an Ashton Gate thriller to ensure that their last defeat to Bristol is still a 14-13 loss at Memorial Stadium back in November 2008.

Ehren Painter, Andrew Kellaway and Lewis Ludlam crossed in the first half for the visitors, while the impressive Taqele Naiyaravoro, Alex Waller and Mike Haywood did likewise in the second half, with their scores being consistently supported by the unerring boot of Dan Biggar.

Bristol trailed at half-time for the first time this season despite Will Hurrell and Harry Thacker dotting down, while Luke Morahan’s effort and Hurrell’s second guaranteed a try bonus point before Alapati Leiua earned a losing bonus point at the death, although they still suffered a first defeat at Ashton Gate in any competition since March.

Saints earned early field position with a brilliant kick to touch by Biggar and a couple of lineouts later, the fly-half slotted a penalty from in front of the posts.

Bristol responded as Hurrell swivelled his hips in the visiting 22 and burst through a couple of tacklers to crash over before Callum Sheedy – a late replacement for Ian Madigan at fly-half – added the extras.

Hurrell’s opposite number Luther Burrell thought he had grabbed Northampton’s first try following an incisive move, only for the TMO to rule it out after Cobus Reinach’s pop to Biggar was ruled forward.

However, the visitors did cross the whitewash twice in quick succession midway through the first half – Painter smashing over for his first senior try from close range before Australian back Kellaway notched his first Northampton try by skipping past a defender after being released by a Tom Collins pass.

Biggar converted both for a 17-7 lead but the Bears got themselves back in it as Sheedy slotted a penalty before John Afoa raced clear off the back of a driving maul from 40 metres and fed his supporting front-row partner Thacker to dive over the whitewash and level at 17-17.

Scrum-half Andy Uren thought he had put Bristol ahead as he scampered over but again the TMO ruled out a score – this time judging that Uren had been held by Reinach in the previous tackle – and Northampton took advantage as Ludlam grabbed their third first-half try by weaving his way under the posts.

A Sheedy penalty narrowed the gap to 24-20 at the break but Naiyaravoro then brought up the Saints’ bonus point by swatting away a couple of defenders en route to powering over in the corner.

Perhaps the try of the match came on 48 minutes as Sheedy’s pinpoint cross-field kick was won in the air by a leaping Piers O’Conor and he offloaded to the supporting Morahan with a flick to slide over.

Both kickers stayed perfect from the tee with the conversions and another Sheedy penalty closed the deficit to 31-30 but the visitors began to pull away in the final quarter.

Waller bulldozed through to defenders to cross under the posts for try number five and the sixth came when Burrell produced a huge carry off the back of a maul and Haywood spotted a gap to sneak over the line undetected.

Hurrell did squeeze over in the corner to secure Bristol a four-try bonus point before the last play of the game saw Leiua hold off defenders to dive over in the opposite corner and also secure a well-deserved losing bonus point.