Northampton stay on track for play-offs after snatching Bath lead

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Northampton remained on course for the Gallagher Premiership play-offs after staging a remarkable second-half fightback to beat Bath 36-31.

The Saints, who led 31-12 with 20 minutes remaining, moved into fourth place as they somehow staved off a victory with a bonus point at the Recreation Ground without their suspended Welsh captain Dan Biggar and England skipper injured Courtney Lawes.

Tries from Alex Mitchell and Tommy Freeman, plus a 76th-minute penalty try, brought them level before substitute hooker Mike Haywood hit the ground in the final act of a thrilling game.

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Offload Ep 30 – Zach Mercer – Life in Montpellier and English ambitions

Bath ended the game at 12 men after all substitutes had been used, as Josh Bayliss went down injured and Jaco Coetzee and then Semesa Rokoduguni were shown a yellow card in the closing seconds.

Scrumhalf Ben Spencer’s try double, along with center Max Clark and wing Will Muir’s touchdowns, appeared to have been enough to send the Saints packing their bags, while Spencer and fellow halfback Danny Cipriani each threw two conversions, and Cipriani added a penalty.

But Northampton, who saw substitute striker from the back line Brandon Nanson carried away after a lengthy second-half stoppage, eventually finished fourth ahead of Exeter and Gloucester.

Center Matt Proctor and number eight Juarno Augustus earlier scored on Northampton tries as they secured their first Premiership away win against Bath since 2015, ending a run of six successive defeats.

There were a few anxious moments for Bath as Saints rallied late in the game and then Northampton turned up the heat and their hosts were unable to respond.

Bath showed four changes from the side knocked out of the European Challenge Cup by Edinburgh last weekend, with Cipriani, Muir, lock Mike Williams and flanker Miles Reid all returning.

Biggar’s suspension, meanwhile, meant George Furbank moved to fly-half for the Saints, with Freeman at fullback and Ollie Sleightholme on the wing. Teimana Harrison replaced Lawes, and lock Alex Coles also started.

Bath made the first run, and it took a frantic Northampton defense to deny Clark a try after a well-placed kick from midfield partner Jonathan Joseph.

The Saints, however, responded by setting up camp inside Bath’s 22, and they took the lead after a number of close-range charges which Bath managed to fend off.

But nothing could stop the visitors when they worked possession wide, and scrum-half Mitchell’s pass sent Proctor for a 17th-minute try which Furbank converted.

Bath then fought back at the start of the second quarter, and this time the Joseph-Clark combination conjured up a try as Clark gained possession from his midfield partner’s kick and crossed unopposed.

Cipriani converted to level Bath, and after Furbank missed a mere penalty chance Bath struck again.

The Saints put up some outstanding last-minute tackles but lacked defensive numbers, and Cipriani’s short pass gave Muir a simple lead-in, the fly-half’s conversion making it 14-7.

Northampton were their worst enemy at times, kicking poorly or guilty of poor options, and Cipriani opened up a 10-point interval advantage when he kicked a 20-yard penalty.

The Saints needed an answer, and it came just five minutes into the second half when Augustus crashed down from close range but Furbank was unable to convert.

And that proved a short-lived hope for the visitors as Bath stung with them with two quick tries both scored by Spencer.

He dashed around the blind side of a line-out for his first, finished it off after an opportunistic break, and he brilliantly converted both tries in the face of a gusty breeze as Bath went past 30 points.

Mitchell gave the Saints a glimmer of hope when he rushed for a try 15 minutes from the hour, then Freeman crossed shortly after to set up a catchy finish, and Northampton snuck in on the finish line amid dramatic scenes.

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