Scrum-thing special from Saints as they secure superb win at Bristol Bears
Saints turned on the power as they bagged a brilliant bonus-point 36-20 win against Bristol Bears at Ashton Gate on Friday night.
Chris Boyd's side won an incredible amount of penalties from the scrum in one of their most dominant forward displays for many years.
The platform laid by the big men allowed the backs to profit, with Tommy Freeman finishing superbly on two occasions and Paul Hill and George Furbank also scoring.
Saints' international stars all played their part after returning from autumn duty and Bristol were outgunned during the second half as they completely fell away.
It could have been even more comfortable for Saints, who ended a run of four successive defeats in all competitions with their best all-round showing of the season so far.
The black, green and gold had given themselves work to do early on at Ashton Gate after failing to escape from the kick-off.
Dan Biggar gave away a penalty and Bristol went for the corner before producing a lineout drive that went on for some time before hooker Jake Kerr scored under the posts.
Callum Sheedy converted and Saints were 7-0 down inside the first five minutes.
Biggar quickly slotted a penalty to reduce the deficit but the Bears were soon back on the hunt thanks to a brilliant 50:22 from Andy Uren, which provided an attacking lineout.
But Saints won a scrum penalty inside their own 22 to ensure they would escape, and they soon earned a shot at goal, which Biggar made no mistake with.
Again, Saints struggled to exit their own 22 successfully though, and Bristol applied the squeeze forcing the away side to concede two penalties, one of which Sheedy slotted.
Saints tried to respond as Juarno Augustus, who was causing real problems for the hosts, and Lewis Ludlam combined, but the support wasn't there in time and Bristol held out.
Ludlam then did well to get back and win a penalty as Bristol tried to break from inside their own half and Saints kept knocking loudly on the door.
But there was no way through and the next points went the way of Bristol as Fraser Dingwall was isolated inside his own half, conceding a penalty that Sheedy kicked.
Saints mounted a rapid response though as Furbank's fast feet took them to within range, and Hill came crashing forward to score.
Biggar converted and the scores were level with seven minutes to go until half-time.
And Saints were ahead four minutes later as Freeman did brilliantly to find a way through, running a brilliant line before jinking past defenders to score.
Biggar converted and Saints led 20-13.
There were a few scares before the break but a huge Saints scrum from Bristol ball five metres out ensured the lead would remain intact at half-time.
But Saints weren't in front for long in the second half as they let Bristol out too easily from the kick-off and were eventually made to pay.
The Bears moved the ball with real speed from left to right, with Toby Fricker doing well to find the inside pass for Alapati Leiua to score.
Sheedy converted and the scores were level again, but the Saints pack was doing the business and as Bristol continued to ship scrum penalties, shots at goal came.
Biggar notched a three-pointer to make it 23-20 and Saints were still flattening the Bears at scrum time, leading to plenty of possession and territory.
And Saints eventually made it count as Alex Mitchell delivered some magic from the back of a scrum, going down the short side and finding Freeman, who finished with aplomb again.
Biggar hit the inside of the right post with the tricky conversion, leaving the gap at eight points with 20 minutes remaining.
Saints' confidence was starting to really flow and they pieced together a sensational move for their bonus-point try.
Courtney Lawes delivered a back-door pass to Mitchell, who waited for his moment to find Furbank, who flew in on the left.
Saints were rampant and they consigned Bristol replacement prop George Kloska to the sin bin with yet another huge scrum that yielded a penalty.
And it looked like game over when Ludlam went flying over the line, but a forward pass was spotted in the build-up and the effort was ruled out.
Karl Wilkins came on for Lawes and won a key breakdown penalty with Bristol mounting a charge inside the Saints 22.
Saints then won yet another scrum penalty close to halfway and Biggar stepped up to slot it superbly, making the game safe with six minutes to go.
Bristol Bears: Piutau; Fricker, O'Conor, Leiua, Purdy; Sheedy, Uren (Whiteley 62); Woolmore (Kloska 57), Kerr (Capon 51), Lahiff (Y Thomas 47); Joyce, Vui; Jeffries (Hawkins 64), Heenan (c) (D Thomas 60), Harding.
Saints: Furbank; Freeman (Gillespie 75), Proctor, Dingwall (Hutchinson 62), Skosan; Biggar, Mitchell (James 69); Waller (Iyogun 64), Fish (Matavesi 57), Hill (Carey 71); Ribbans, Moon (Ratuniyarawa 57); Lawes (Wilkins 66), Ludlam (c), Augustus.
Referee: Karl Dickson