Summer signings get off the mark as Saints win thrilling battle at Bristol

Taqele Naiyaravoro scored his first Saints try in the thrilling win at Bristol (pictures: Sharon Lucey)
Taqele Naiyaravoro scored his first Saints try in the thrilling win at Bristol (pictures: Sharon Lucey)

Taqele Naiyaravoro and Andrew Kellaway scored their first Saints tries in a roller coaster 45-40 bonus-point success at Bristol Bears on Saturday afternoon.

Ehren Painter was another to grab his first try for the Northampton first team, with Lewis Ludlam, Alex Waller and Mike Haywood also crossing for Chris Boyd's men in the Ashton Gate sunshine.

It was an incredible encounter full of thrills and spills with neither side looking commanding defensively.

But Saints' attack proved to be the most prolific on the day with their summer recruits showing why they were signed.

Bristol refused to go quietly, even when they found their deficit in double figures as Saints' porous defending continually gave them hope.

But the Bears were far from fierce in their own 22, with Saints putting together some slick moves as they picked up their first away win of the season.

Newly-promoted Bristol came into the game having won both of their Gallagher Premiership home clashes, but they were hit with a blow when fly-half Ian Madigan was forced to withdraw with a hamstring injury.

And Saints set off with the bit between their teeth, making a strong start to the match.

After a couple of lineouts deep in Bristol territory, they forced the home side to infringe, with Dan Biggar slotting the penalty from in front of the posts.

But Bristol responded almost immediately as Saints gifted them the ball in the 22 and centre Will Hurrell beat some weak defending to run in for the score.

Callum Sheedy, a late replacement for Madigan, landed the conversion and Saints were 7-3 down.

Saints thought they had their lead back when Luther Burrell dived over the line but after watching the effort back on the big screen, referee Luke Pearce ruled it out for a forward pass from Cobus Reinach in the build-up.

However, Saints did get their try when Biggar booted the ball to the corner and the pressure was applied by the forwards with Painter popping up to score.

Biggar converted and the 10-7 lead was certainly no more than the men in Northampton colours merited.

Saints were playing some incisive attacking rugby, posing real problems for Bristol, and another flowing move resulted in Tom Collins offloading sensibly for Kellaway to score.

Biggar converted from the touchline and his side had a 10-point lead, which was narrowed when Sheedy landed a penalty soon after.

Saints had a chance to kick to cancel Sheedy's effort out, but Biggar booted the ball to the corner as the away side tried to crank up the heat.

Jack Lam paid the price for collapsing a maul, with referee Pearce opting to yellow card the Bristol No.8.

But Saints could not take advantage, conceding two quickfire penalties, allowing Bristol to clear their lines.

And after taking a lineout on halfway, the Bears scored a try out of nothing, with prop John Afoa bursting through from a maul before giving the ball to Harry Thacker for the score.

Sheedy converted to level the scores and Saints, who were still a man up, were left scratching their heads at how they were no longer in front in a game they had been almost completely dominating.

And it looked like it had got even more hard to take when Andy Uren dived over the line, but the referee deemed he had been held in a tackle during the build-up and his effort was chalked off.

Saints sprang into life once again after that reprieve, putting together another tidy attacking move that ended with flanker Ludlam finishing neatly.

Biggar converted to make it 24-17, but Sheedy soon slotted a penalty before Lam returned from the sin bin.

That was how it remained until half-time, but Saints came out of the blocks quickest in the second period, with Naiyaravoro opening his Northampton account with a trademark try.

The powerhouse winger brushed off a couple of attempted tackles and waltzed over the line to pick up the bonus point, with Biggar then converting brilliantly from the touchline.

But, unsurprisingly in a see-saw game, Bristol hit back, with a lovely crossfield kick evading Naiyaravoro, who did make the tackle straight after, and Luke Morahan picking up to finish a fine move in the corner.

Sheedy converted with aplomb and then landed a penalty to cut the deficit to just a single point.

But Saints went straight back up the other end and prop Waller used his power to pick up his team's fifth try.

Biggar converted to make it 38-30 as the crazy nature of the game continued.

Saints needed to hammer home their advantage and one of their raft of 61st-minute replacements helped them to do it as Haywood showed good awareness to score.

Harry Mallinder, on for Biggar, landed the conversion and the lead was 15 points with 15 minutes to go.

But Bristol just would not go quietly and Hurrell beat two attempted tackles to score in the corner.

Replacement fly-half Tusi Pisi missed the conversion but Bristol continued to try to apply pressure as they looked to get the Saints nerves jangling once again.

But the clock had gone dead by the time Alapati Leuia scored in the corner to salvage a losing bonus point, which added to a try bonus point for his team.

Pisi missed the conversion, but the conclusion of the game was greeted with warm applause from both sets of fans, who had witnessed a thrilling match.

Bristol Bears: O’Conor; Morahan, Hurrell, Piutau, Leiua; Sheedy (Pisi 66), Uren (Stirzaker 65); Thomas, Thacker, Afoa; Holmes, Latta (Joyce 53); Luatua (c), Smith, Lam (Haining 60).

Saints: Tuala; Collins, Burrell, Francis (Kellaway 12), Naiyaravoro; Biggar (Mallinder 60), Reinach (Mitchell 76); Waller (cc) (van Wyk 61), Hartley (cc) (Haywood 61), Painter (Franks 61); Ribbans, Lawes (Ratuniyarawa 61); Gibson, Ludlam (Eadie 74), Harrison.

Referee: Luke Pearce

Attendance: 14,684

Taqele Naiyaravoro was a tough man to stop

Taqele Naiyaravoro was a tough man to stop

Luther Burrell was in the thick of the action

Luther Burrell was in the thick of the action

Lewis Ludlam scored towards the end of the first half

Lewis Ludlam scored towards the end of the first half

Mike Haywood made sure of the win

Mike Haywood made sure of the win