Neal Hatley: Bath Rugby must improve at the set-piece
Bath’s inability to control the set-piece cost them their 100 per cent record as the Saints battled their way to a third Aviva Premiership victory, 18-14.
Bath forwards coach Neal Hatley highlighted the area as where the match would be won and lost in the lead up to the contest. The home side did not heed the warning, however, and could not get to grips with the visitors’ powerful scrum, slipping to a first defeat of the campaign.
The powerful Saints pack outmuscled their counterparts, who continued to give away penalties through indiscipline. Northampton fly-half Steven Myler took full advantage and kicked the visitors to victory.
“If we are brutally honest we weren’t accurate enough at the set-piece,” said Hatley .
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“We went from scrums and lineout drives to penalties and they banged three points over. That’s their bread and butter.
“As the game wore on we got more and more into it but consistency at the set-piece is where we need to improve. Northampton are one of the best around at the set-piece, so that’s where we want to be.”
Bath opted to replace their entire front-row at the same time midway through the second half.
It failed to work, however, and with the pack failing to function for so long, Hatley suggested there could well be changes in personnel for Saturday’s trip to London Irish.
“We asked Davey Wilson to go hell for leather for as long as possible but it just so happened that all three blew up at the same time,” said Hatley.
“We recognise that there’s no way we can keep the same guys out and we will head down to London Irish next week and have one or two changes because we need to keep these guys fresh.”
With both sides arriving at The Rec with two victories from their opening two matches, proceedings were always likely to be close.
Nick Abendanon gave Bath a dream start to the contest, touching down inside two minutes. Captain Stuart Hooper claimed a lineout and the ball eventually made its way to Tom Biggs, who played a delicate grubber kick to split the visiting defence and allow full-back Abendanon to charge to the corner.
Olly Barkley missed his first kick of the campaign when a difficult conversion attempt drifted wide before Myler cut the deficit with a penalty from the left-hand touchline.
Barkley responded and hit back with a penalty of his own but the Northampton forwards soon took control of the contest, giving Myler the platform to fire his side ahead before the break.
The Bath pack could not live with their Saints counterparts and were continually penalised at the scrum and the breakdown and Myler took full advantage to land three penalties without reply.
Barkley saw a routine penalty from in front of the posts come back off the woodwork, allowing the visitors to clear.
Myler kicked another penalty after the break.
A quickfire double from Barkley threatened to turn the game on its head, though, with the Bath fly-half firing two penalties to bring his side within a point of their visitors.
When Barkley under hit a penalty which would have given Bath the lead for the first time in almost an hour, Tom May, on for the injured Ben Foden, quickly took advantage to restore the visitors’ composure.
Following sustained pressure, May worked his way into the pocked to land a coolly-taken drop goal to put Saints’ lead up to four heading into the final few minutes.
Knowing they needed a try, Bath laid siege to the visitors’ line but, despite a penetrating run from Abendanon, Northampton pounced on Ben Skirving’s fumble to close out the contest, with the hosts having to settle for a losing bonus point.
Bath: Abendanon, Eastmond, Hipkiss, Williams, Biggs, Barkley, Claassens, James, Mears, Wilson, Hooper, Day, Taylor, Fearns, Skirving. Replacements: Cuthbert for Williams (71), Catt for James (62), Batty for Mears (62), Perenise for Wilson (62), Attwood for Hooper (41), Ovens for Taylor (74). Not Used: McMillan, Devoto.
Scorers: Tries – Abendanon. Pens – Barkley 3.
Northampton: Foden, K. Pisi, Waldouck, Burrell, Artemyev, Myler, Dickson, Tonga’uiha, Hartley, Mercey, Manoa, Day, Dowson, Wood, Oakley. Replacements: May for Foden (41), Waller for Tonga’uiha (70), Haywood for Hartley (71), Doran-Jones for Mercey (37), Sorenson for Day (62), Lawes for Oakley (56). Not Used: Roberts, Lamb.
Northampton: Pens – Myler 5. Drop Goals – May.
Ref: Andrew Small (RFU).