Bath 32 Northampton Saints 30: Tom Vickers' review and player ratings

Ben Foden scored Saints' first try (pictures: Kirsty Edmonds)
Ben Foden scored Saints' first try (pictures: Kirsty Edmonds)
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Saints' biggest game of the season was ultimately to end in the biggest disappointment.

Rhys Priestland stuck the boot in, breaking the away side at the last as he kicked the penalty that won the game for Bath.

It was an agonising final moment in a match saturated with entertainment.

It was one of the most topsy-turvy conclusions to a game that anyone who witnessed it will ever see.

Saints rose like Lazarus during the second period, twice leading, thanks to tries from Api Ratuniyarawa and Jamie Gibson, and conversions from 'Ice Man' Stephen Myler.

But Bath kept battling, even when down to 14 men, with prop Kane Palma-Newport in the sin bin, and cranked up the heat late on to secure the spoils.

Harry Mallinder was in the thick of the action

Harry Mallinder was in the thick of the action

It was a crucial win for the men in blue and white as not only did they earn the four points for the victory, but also bagged a bonus point, pushing them nine points clear of Saints.

And yet, on a couple of occasions, it seemed as though Saints would be as few as three points behind their hosts, who are now third in the table, come the end of the night.

The fact they are now staring up a significant mountain in the bid to reach the top four owed much to several key moments.

A failure to spot a forward pass in the build-up to Chris Cook's fantastic finish didn't help the cause.

Wayne Barnes made some big decisions

Wayne Barnes made some big decisions

Saints once again had a gripe with referee Wayne Barnes, who refused to review the incident.

And once again, those of a Northampton persuasion felt aggrieved that the official didn't listen to their pleas.

What makes Barnes a top referee also, on occasion, frustrates.

His belief in his own judgement is admirable, and it makes for a much better game than when less confident officials continually stop matches and review incidents.

Kahn Fotuali'i faced his former club

Kahn Fotuali'i faced his former club

But occasionally, Barnes appears to trust his own eyes so much that he will not listen to anyone around him.

And that was what Saints were understandably disappointed with at The Rec.

However, as director of rugby Jim Mallinder pointed out, this wasn't all about the official.

For a start, Saints shipped 19 points in the first half, with Semesa Rokoduguni's try particularly irksome as he strolled through the middle of the defence.

And in the end, Saints were their own worst enemies.

After that Cook try, Gibson's effort and Myler's conversion put Mallinder's men a point up.

Stephen Myler produced a fine display for Saints

Stephen Myler produced a fine display for Saints

They needed the composure to see it out.

To shut the door in Bath faces.

But replacements who had played such a key role in hauling the men in white back into the match were to eventually make costly calls.

Lee Dickson, who added such tempo from the bench, kicked the ball out on the full.

Bath proceeded to win a penalty, which Priestland missed, but Dickson didn't ground the ball and instead tried to play out.

A scuffed clearance from James Wilson then invited more pressure and Calum Clark's desperation to get the ball back saw Barnes award the penalty that Priestland landed to draw a roar of delight from the majority of the crowd at The Rec.

It was a gut-wrenching moment as the ball just drifted inside the right post and presented such precious Aviva Premiership points to the home team.

Now, plenty will blame Dickson, Clark and Wilson for what happened at the end of the match.

And as professionals, they will expect to have done better.

But when discussing what occurred, you have to take into the account the pressure the players were under.

The points were so vital to their team and the strain was evident, just as it was at The Stoop last February, when Ben Botica failed to kick the ball out to seal a win for Harlequins.

On that occasion, Ben Foden seized the ball and scored a memorable try, snatching a dramatic late victory for Saints in a match that meant so much to their top-six hopes.

With most scratching their head as to how Botica had failed to finish the game for his team, Saints coach Alex King summed it up with one word: pressure.

As a former fly-half, he understood the crazy things that can happen when the heat really is on.

And he was not prepared to delight in Botica's dismay, expressing real sympathy for the player.

It is always said in sport that things even themselves out eventually, and maybe what happened at Bath on Friday night was the universe's way of doing that.

But that will be no consolation to Saints, whose stirring revival didn't end with the reward it merited.

It did at least give them something to build on for weeks to come.

And the next three are still so crucial, with trips to Newcastle and Sale sandwiched by a home clash with Worcester Warriors.

Saints really need to win all three of those matches now.

And if they can show up like they did at times during the second half at Bath, they have a good chance of achieving that aim.

However, if they perform as they did in the first, even their hopes of making the top six could be in trouble.

How they rated...

AHSEE TUALA

Made one telling first-half contribution to hold up a Bath attack when it looked certain they would score and he made good ground going forward at times... 7

KEN PISI

Wasn't able to make too much of an impact going forward and he had his work cut out defensively... 6

NAFI TUITAVAKE

Has such quick feet, which keeps opposition teams on their toes and he looked sharp in attack, while doing his best to be physical in defence... 7

HARRY MALLINDER

Did well to help Gibson get over the line for a late try, but occasionally found it tough under immense Bath pressure in the first half... 6

BEN FODEN

Finished the chance he got well and didn't do much wrong as the skipper desperately tried to drive his team back into the game... 7

STEPHEN MYLER

A fine night for the fly-half, whose fizzed pass put Foden in for a try and whose flawless kicking so nearly snatched the win for Saints... 8

NIC GROOM

One clever surge and offload helped to win a first-half penalty, but he wasn't always able to get the quick ball he wanted... 6

ALEX WALLER

A power-packed display from the prop, who fronted up and also made some key contributions to disrupt Bath... 7

MIKE HAYWOOD - CHRON STAR MAN

An indefatigable display from the hooker, who made big tackles, especially during the first half, and impressive carries as Saints started to get on top in the second period... 8

KIERAN BROOKES

Was in control in the scrum early on, but Bath found a way to unsettle Saints at the set piece and it didn't all go his own way, despite the huge effort he put in... 6

MICHAEL PATERSON

Put in plenty of effort, doing the dirty work in the second row and he even attempted a clearance kick at one point... 7

CHRISTIAN DAY

His awareness in such a frantic situation was key to Saints' comeback and he marshalled the forwards well... 7

JAMIE GIBSON

Another great display from the flanker, who made some telling contributions at the breakdown and grabbed himself a try with striking desire... 8

TEIMANA HARRISON

Looked to enjoy it more when he was switched to No.8 in the second period and that move helped to improve Saints... 7

SAM DICKINSON

Never shied away from carrying into numbers and put in plenty of work before being replaced... 6

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

CALUM CLARK (for Dickinson 56)

Added energy to the mix, but his desperation to get the ball back for Saints late on ultimately proved costly as he conceded the penalty that Bath kicked to win the game... 6

LEE DICKSON (for Groom 56)

Helped to significantly up the tempo for Saints, but, like Clark, the pressure got to him late on as he kicked the ball out on the full and then failed to dot it down for a 22 drop out... 6