Northampton Saints went into Christmas with a morale-boosting 22-13 win over a stangely off-colour Bath Rugby in an Aviva Premiership fixture which produced four tries and four yellow cards.
Three of the four tries on the day went to Northampton, as the rampant home side took a 22-3 half-time lead and looked set to claim a four-try bonus win.
However, the hosts failed to trouble the scorers in the second stanza as they conceded two yellow cards in the final quarter which very nearly cost them the match as Bath scored their only try through captain Francois Louw.
Earlier, superb tries by loose forwards Phil Dowson and Tom Wood, along with one by left-wing Jamie Elliott, had put Northampton in charge, with an error-ridden Bath side making simple mistakes on defence and their ailing set-piece also creating havoc for themselves.
Dowson's try came from a well-taken counter-attack - that after Olly Barkley had put Bath ahead with a penalty goal - and centre George Pisi set up Wood's five-pointer when he collected flyhalf Ryan Lamb's well-weighted chip before off-loading to Wood who crossed under the uprights.
Worse was to follow for Bath - who went into the match on a three-game losing streak - when fullback Nick Abendanon was yellow-carded in the 31st minute, Pisi's kick through and tackle having won the penalty which Lamb converted for a 15-3 lead.
Northampton were not done, however, as Elliott profited from numbers on the left-hand side, juggling the ball over the line as he crossed for try No.3 for the Saints.
Lamb landed his second conversion of the day as they extended their lead to 19 points - at 22-3 - but they would have been very confident of getting that fourth try, especially as visiting No.10 Stephen Donald was sin binned six minutes into the second half when Wood came close.
Elliott then looked to have grabbed his second try on the day, only for Lamb's pass to have been called forward.
Saints boss Jim Mallinder wisely decided to rest his star forwards Soane Tonga'uiha and Courtney Lawes but it very nearly fell apart for the hosts as replacement Samu Manoa was sin-binned, followed just a minute later by centre James Downey.
Springbok Louw, playing at No.8, benefited from his team's two-man overlap as he flopped over from a scrum to make it 22-13 but Saints finished strongly when the impressive Pisi came close to his first try - just failing to take Lamb's pass - and two powerful mauls also very nearly produced the fourth try.
For Northampton Saints:
Tries: Dowson, Wood, Elliott
Cons: Lamb 2
For Bath Rugby:
Pens: Barkley 2
Yellow card(s): Nick Abendanon (Bath, 31st minute); Stephen Donald (Bath, 46th minute); Samu Manoa (61st minute); James Downey (63rd minute).
Northampton: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Vasily Artemyev, 13 George Pisi, 12 James Downey, 11 Jamie Elliott, 10 Ryan Lamb, 9 Lee Dickson, 8 Roger Wilson, 7 Tom Wood, 6 Phil Dowson, 5 Mark Sorenson, 4 Courtney Lawes, 3 Paul Doran Jones, 2 Dylan Hartley (captain), 1 Soane Tonga'uiha.
Replacements: 16 Mike Haywood, 17 Alex Waller, 18 Tom Mercey, 19 Samu Manoa, 20 Ben Nutley, 21 Martin Roberts, 22 Stephen Myler, 23 Scott Armstrong.
Bath: 15 Nick Abendanon, 14 Matt Carraro, 13 Ben Williams, 12 Olly Barkley, 11 Matt Banahan, 10 Stephen Donald, 9 Michael Claassens, 8 Francois Louw (captain), 7 Guy Mercer, 6 Andy Beattie, 5 Ryan Caldwell, 4 Dave Attwood, 3 David Wilson, 2 Ross Batty, 1 David Flatman.
Replacements: 16 Will Tanner, 17 Nathan Catt, 18 Anthony Perenise, 19 Will Spencer, 20 Josh Ovens, 21 Chris Cook, 22 Tom Heathcote, 23 Jack Cuthbert.
Referee: David Rose
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