Northampton Saints 32 Bristol 26: Tom Vickers' review and player ratings

Mission accomplished.

Sunday, 8th January 2017, 1:17 am
Updated Monday, 9th January 2017, 1:02 pm
George North looked sharp for Saints (pictures: Kirsty Edmonds)

Saints set a target of three wins after their Dublin drubbing in December, and on Saturday they completed the job.

It wasn't easy, because Bristol posed a real threat.

Their breaks were brisk and they scored one of the tries of the season through flying full-back Jason Woodward.

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The Kiwi was one of the stars of his team's show at Franklin's Gardens, but Saints just had too much.

The power of their pack, particularly the indefatigable back row forwards, told in the end.

Captain marvel Tom Wood, reigning player of the year Teimana Harrison, fantastic Frenchman Louis Picamoles and super sub Jamie Gibson dragged the team over the line.

Their work rate was hugely impressive and with Calum Clark, Ben Nutley and Sam Dickinson not even in the matchday squad, Saints' depth in that department is impressive.

Jamie Elliott was forced off with a shoulder injury

There is still plenty of work to be done in other areas, but as Wood said - confidence is finally building.

Saints have got the winning habit back and, despite the fact they are out of the reckoning in the Champions Cup, they will want to maintain their hot streak next weekend.

Some players undoubtedly need a rest, with men such as Mike Haywood and Courtney Lawes constantly putting in huge 80-minute shifts.

But with Castres also struggling in Pool 4, they are likely to make changes of their own, giving Saints another big opportunity to send the paying public home happy.

JJ Hanrahan scored his first try of the season

Their appetite was certainly sated on Saturday, having not only seen a victory, but also an entertaining encounter.

They have been few and far between at the Gardens during recent times, but with Bristol coming to play rather than squeeze the life out of Saints, there was plenty of excitement.

And, most importantly, there was end product.

Defensively, Saints were a bit too open at times, which was surprising given how few tries they have conceded in the league this season.

Jamie Gibson was part of a big back row performance

But perhaps it was a sign of a new-found focus on attack and a struggle to get the balance right.

Whatever it was, it made for a good watch.

And fans finally headed home feeling they had been fully entertained, with their side managing to provide the right outcome, too.

Stiffer tests will come in the months ahead, but Saints have at least given themselves a chance of making the top four.

The game at Bath next month will be huge, with just five points now separating Todd Blackadder's fourth-placed team from fifth-placed Saints.

Leicester will be in the mix, too, with Saints having just edged a satisfying point ahead of their rivals thanks to Saturday's win.

Saints eventually overpowered Bristol

Tigers play at Wasps today and could return to fifth.

But whether they do or they don't, Saints have done the job they set out to do.

Now they need to continue 2017 as they have started it: in winning style.

How they rated...


Has done well in the past three matches, looking strong under the high ball and showing good awareness... 7


Didn't get any time to make an impression as he dislocated his shoulder after chasing a grubber kick


Wasn't able to break through the Bristol defence, but it wasn't for the lack of trying as he put a lot of effort in... 6


Grabbed his first try of the season, charging down an attempted clearance and dotting down at a crucial time for Saints... 7


Got fans on their feet with a couple of trademark surges from inside his own half and it was great to watch... 7


Did what he had to from the tee and steered the side around well, constantly looking for openings... 7


Looked sharp and is clearly starting to adapt to English rugby after a mixed first few months... 7


Dropped one pass that led to a try, but his work rate was never in question and he put plenty of effort in... 6


Another impressive 80-minute shift from the hooker, whose tireless work is so vital to this team... 8


Used his power to take the fight to Bristol, dragging players in and giving his team-mates the chance to find space... 7


The lock is really hitting his straps this season and he was a key figure once again here, carrying well on a number of occasions and making some big hits, too... 8


It is no coincidence that when he plays Saints win games, and he was influential once again here... 7


It is hard to remember when the skipper last had a bad game and he is on a roll when it comes to tries, too, scoring in the past two home games... 8


Is starting to rediscover his best form and was a handful for Bristol as he tried to carry Saints forward... 8


What more is there to say about this man? An incredible signing for Saints, and his assist for Tom Wood's try was just superb... 8

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

JUAN PABLO ESTELLES (for Elliott 12)

Entered the action earlier than he would have expected, but did little wrong and was a safe pair of hands... 6

Jamie Elliott was forced off with a shoulder injury
JJ Hanrahan scored his first try of the season
Jamie Gibson was part of a big back row performance
Saints eventually overpowered Bristol