Bristol 10 Northampton Saints 32: Tom Vickers’ review and player ratings

Louis Picamoles showed his class at Bristol (pictures: Kirsty Edmonds)
Louis Picamoles showed his class at Bristol (pictures: Kirsty Edmonds)

Whether it was the fresh white kit or the three changes to personnel, this was a Saints side unrecognisable from the one which lost so meakly to Bath eight days earlier.

Jim Mallinder’s men were far sharper, had much more menace and a real cutting edge during the first 40 minutes at Ashton Gate on Sunday.

They dominated from the off, with Stephen Myler, back in the side in place of Harry Mallinder, pulling the strings and pinning Bristol back.

Big guns such as Louis Picamoles, who was outstanding, and George North fired at the impressive football ground.

And, all in all, it was the perfect response to that deflating defeat to Bath at Franklin’s Gardens.

Saints seem to relish playing away from home, showing more freedom of expression.

George North shone for Saints

George North shone for Saints

Though at times it didn’t feel like they were on the road, as an army of travelling fans headed down the M4.

In fact, it was revealed that around 50 per cent of the supporters who turned up without having pre-booked were of a Saints persuasion.

It was an impressive following and, largely, a performance to match.

Saints did temporarily go from slick to sloppy early in the second period, but they pulled it back and eventually scored the crucial bonus-point try through Mike Haywood.

Stephen Myler was hugely influential

Stephen Myler was hugely influential

It was the icing on the cake at the end of a strong away showing and it only prompted questions as to why Saints hadn’t been as accomplished against Bath.

But that was in the past and as it has turned out, Mallinder’s side have pocketed six points from their opening two games.

It is not a bad return and though they would have wanted, perhaps expected, more, they at least have something to build on going into a tricky run of fixtures.

Saracens are next up and Saints will have to produce a display akin to their first 40 at Bristol for the entirety of the game at Allianz Park if they are to get a result.

Saints had plenty of support at Ashton Gate

Saints had plenty of support at Ashton Gate

But the pleasing signs are that men such as North and Picamoles are ready to take games by the scruff of the neck and drag the level of the team up.

This was a far cry from the last time Saints travelled to a newly-promoted team.

Last season, they were beaten on Premiership opening night at Sixways as Worcester Warriors celebrated their return to the top division with a last-gasp win.

There were mentions of that 13-12 shocker in the build-up to the trip to Bristol, but this game never threatened a repeat of that Worcester woe.

Saints did exactly what they hadn’t at Sixways: they imposed themselves on the game and the opposition.

Mallinder said after the game that his men wanted to put doubt in the minds of the Bristol players.

Courtney Lawes and Kieran Brookes showed their power

Courtney Lawes and Kieran Brookes showed their power

To show them that stepping up a level would be more difficult than they found in their narrow defeat to Harlequins eight days earlier.

Saints did what they set out to do.

Players like Picamoles, North, Myler, Dylan Hartley and Tom Wood showcased their class.

They showed that they are a team ready to be ruthless against sides expected to battle relegation.

Last season, Saints lost at Worcester, London Irish and Newcastle Falcons.

But this time round, they look determined to avoid those kind of banana skins.

Now they have to show they can mix it with not only the best in England, but in Europe, too.

How they rated...

AHSEE TUALA

Slipped a bit in the second half, but he did make a try-saving tackle on Tom Varndell, showing his worth defensively... 7

KEN PISI

Breezed past Varndell to score for Saints during the first half and he was also secure under the high ball in a good display... 8

GEORGE PISI

Put himself about, including with a tackle on brother Tusi Pisi, and he can be pleased with this performance... 7

LUTHER BURRELL

Showed his power during a strong first 40 minutes and then did his bit alongside Harry Mallinder in the second period... 7

GEORGE NORTH

This was what Saints supporters wanted to see, with the Wales star heavily involved in the game and scoring a fine try... 8

STEPHEN MYLER

Pulled the strings for Saints as he kicked brilliantly from hand and set up a score for Ken Pisi... 8

LEE DICKSON

Plenty of tempo from the scrum-half, who was a man on a mission in the first half and made the most of quick ball from the forwards... 7

ALEX WALLER

A consistent figure in the Saints team and he enjoyed the forward battle with Bristol, helping Saints boss it... 7

DYLAN HARTLEY

Produced a lovely offload in the build-up to Saints’ first try and though he missed a chance to score one of his own due to a last-gasp fumble, he was hugely impressive... 8

KIERAN BROOKES

Relished getting stuck into Bristol and you can see the prop going from strength to strength in the next few weeks... 7

COURTNEY LAWES

Looked back to his best here as he caused Bristol problems with his physicality and did the job in the lineout... 8

MICHAEL PATERSON

A very good performance from the lock as he got around well and ensured Saints had a platform to build on... 7

TOM WOOD

Seemed to be everywhere as he put in tackles, wreaked havoc at the breakdown and charged down a couple of kicks... 8

TEIMANA HARRISON

Made some of his trademark carries during the first half as he helped Saints get on the front foot... 7

LOUIS PICAMOLES - CHRON STAR MAN

A huge display from the Frenchman, who outclassed and overpowered the opposition and grabbed his first Saints try... 9

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

MIKE HAYWOOD (for Hartley 40)

Saints will be so happy to have this man back after he missed the Bath game and he was impressive after coming on, capping his display with a try... 8

NIC GROOM (for Dickson (45)

Made a lightning start to life at Saints with two tries on debut against Bath and he looked sharp again here even if Bristol were improving when he came on... 6

HARRY MALLINDER (for G Pisi 47)

Slotted a lovely conversion to cap the Saints display and looked strong at centre during his cameo... 7

SAM DICKINSON (for Paterson 56)

Came on at a time when Saints needed to stand tall against the Bristol fightback and didn’t do much wrong... 6