Bristol Bears 52 Northampton Saints 21: Tom Vickers' big match review

What happened at Ashton Gate on Friday night won't define Saints' season - but how they respond to it will.
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Phil Dowson's side suffered another Bristol bludgeoning a little more than a year on from their last one.

Last March, Saints were handed their record Premiership defeat as the Bears ran wild at Ashton Gate, racking up a 62-8 success.

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And while this wasn't anywhere near as bad, it was still a truly humbling evening for those of a Northampton persuasion.

Courtney Lawes and Co were left frustrated on Friday night (photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)Courtney Lawes and Co were left frustrated on Friday night (photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)
Courtney Lawes and Co were left frustrated on Friday night (photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

Saints had hoped to return from the break from competitive action with a statement performance.

A display that showed why they went into the match seven points clear at the summit.

But Premiership round 13 proved to be unlucky for some as the black, green and gold were made to suffer on a night when little went right.

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From start to finish, Saints simply could not get any momentum in the match.

They wasted early chances to take the lead and then saw Joe Batley charge down a box kick from Archie McParland, making his first Premiership start at the age of 19, to score.

Bristol built on that lead with a typical counter-attacking score that cut Saints open.

And even though the black, green and gold had their moments - they scored three fantastic tries - they just could not get a foothold.

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Instead, every time Saints scored, Bristol hit back, refusing to let the table-toppers deliver any prolonged periods of pressure.

It was sucker punch after sucker punch, and Saints were eventually left dazed on the canvas with nothing to show for their night.

It was a sobering evening during which the penalty count was truly alarming. A horrible flashback of difficult days prior to this season.

But while Saints will review it in detail with what will surely be a video nasty at cinch Stadium at Franklin's Gardens, they can't let it derail and totally deflate them.

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Instead, they will be tasked with letting it fuel their fire ahead of a truly mouthwatering set of matches.

Saints have worked so hard to be in the position they are in.

They will still be top when they host Saracens at the Gardens on Friday night.

And following that titanic league tussle, they will return to European matters, having battled so bravely to secure top spot in Investec Champions Cup pool 3.

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They now have three, potentially four - if they can beat Munster - home matches in a row.

But their margin for error is now back to none.

Every game will feel like a knockout encounter.

And Saints are going to need to be so much better in all departments than they were at Ashton Gate.

But these players have showed that they can be.

They won 10 matches in a row before the pause in competitive action and now they need to summon up that unbeatable spirit and magic again.

It won't be easy - it never is - but if Saints can get a few key players back to give them an extra spring in their step this week, then they can get back to the black, green and gold of a couple of months ago.