Toby Booth: Bath Rugby 'passed test of character' in defeat to Northampton
First-team coach Toby Booth believes Bath passed “a great test of character” at Franklin’s Gardens, despite seeing their winning run end with a narrow defeat to Northampton Saints.
Bath were trailing 20-9 with 20 minutes but battled back brilliantly to lead 23-20, only for Jamie Elliott to snatch victory from their grasp with his second try of the day.
“We were 20-9 down but rolled our sleeves up at a really difficult place and showed a massive amount of character,” said Booth.
“That is going to serve us well because we are on a longer journey and that sort of desire to play for your team-mates is going to serve us well going forward.”
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Bath – going into the game on the back of six successive victories – started the game well and took an early lead through a Tom Heathcote penalty.
However, Stephen Myler replied in kind soon after and then released Elliott with a looping pass to dart over in the corner, despite the best efforts of Nick Abendanon, and score the first try after 22 minutes.
Myler kicked another penalty but that was sandwiched by two successful Heathcote efforts as Bath went into the break 11-9 down, although they could have been leading had Abendanon not knocked on with the line in sight.
The game seemed to slip away from the visitors in the early stages of the second period as Myler slotted over three penalties in eight minutes to open up an 11-point lead.
But Bath were then given a lifeline by a moment of controversy. A scrum collapsed seven metres from the line but, despite it being the first time Northampton were penalised for the offence, referee Luke Pearce awarded a penalty try.
The home crowd were stunned by the decision and looked on in disbelief again seven minutes later when Semesa Rokoduguni – a late replacement for Matt Banahan, who had a back injury – intercepted a pass and raced 55 metres to touch down.
Heathcote converted both tries to give Bath an unlikely 23-20 lead but, with a first victory at Franklin’s Gardens since 2000 within reach, Elliott was able to slip through again for the winning score.
Bath defence coach Mike Ford felt the spirit was tremendous in an exciting finish.
“We were 20-9 down but the lads never gave up,” said Ford. “We knew the players wouldn’t stop fighting and we got two tries to go in front.
“It was pretty disappointing to concede a second, but it was a great game, the breakdown was a real contest and it is small margins in the end.”
The four points kept Northampton’s challenge for a Premiership play-off place intact and after losing at home to Gloucester last week, coach Alan Dickens was pleased with how the side have responded, following up last week’s win at Worcester with victory over an in-form Bath team.
“We scored two good tries in the outside channels, so I am pleased,” said Dickens. “But I was pleased with all the team.
“I am looking after the backs and the attack as well at the moment, but the defence was good as well. The desire and commitment from our lads to get back and make Bath make that extra pass or force a mistake was superb.
“I don’t think the backs have been playing with a lack of confidence, but you go through periods in a season when it is tough, not just in terms with how we played, but with the conditions.
“Last week at Worcester we played the conditions, the backs put the forwards in the right part of the field and then they finished it off really.
“Jamie has done really well, he has definitely made that number 11 shirt his own.
“The crowd were immense and got behind us and I am sure it was a real lift to the lads on the pitch. It was a pivotal game, we identified that during the week, so it was great to win.”
Bath at least had the consolation of picking up a losing bonus point and they will be looking to get straight back to winning ways when they entertain West Country rivals Gloucester on Friday (8pm).
Northampton: Foden, Wilson, Pisi, May (Waldouck 22), Elliott, Myler, Dickson, Tonga’uiha (Waller 63), Haywood (McMillan 39), Mercey (Doran Jones 55), Manoa, Sorenson (Craig 78), Dowson, Nutley, van Velze. Replacements not used: Oakley, Roberts, Lamb.
Scorers: Tries: Elliott 2. Pens: Myler 5.
Bath: Abendanon (Cuthbert 64), Agulla, Rokoduguni, Eastmond (Vesty 75), Biggs, Heathcote, Stringer (Claassens 75), Beech (Catt 47), Webber (c) (Batty 68), Perenise (Palma-Newport 68), Day (Spencer 63), Attwood, Fearns, Gilbert (Koster 63), Skirving.
Scorers: Tries – Heathcote, Rokoduguni. Cons – Heathcote 2. Pens – Heathcote 3.
Referee: Luke Pearce.