Bristol turn the tables on Northampton

Bristol have added yet another chapter to the fairytale that is their season, coming back from a half-time deficit of eight points to record a remarkable if ill-tempered 14-8 victory over Northampton Saints at Franklin’s Gardens on Saturday.


This rambunctious rope-a-dope victory bodes will for Bristol’s recently re-jigged goal for the season: a top-four finish.


Northampton mighty be happy to end the season where they currently sit, in eleventh place. Worcester’s draw with Wasps on Friday means the Saints are now just four points clear of the drop zone, albeit with a game in hand.


But it wasn’t all good news for Bristol. The curse of the Webb Ellis Trophy struck down Dan Ward-Smith, Bristol’s dynamic number eight who was widely tipped to win an England debut against Scotland in the Six Nations opener.


With the Saints in the ascendancy early in the game, Ward-Smith was caught in a pile-up on his own line trying to protect the ball and suffered a dislocated right kneecap that may well end his season.


The injury held up play for five minutes as Ward-Smith received oxygen before the medical team immobilised the knee and stretchered him off.


England coach Brian Ashton will be cursing his luck after another injury setback – and so will club boss Richard Hill at losing a player whose explosive ball-carrying presence has turned Bristol from also-rans into potential champions over the last two years.


But back to matters in hand. With the spectre of relegation lurking around the hallowed confines of Franklin’s Gardens, the Saints exploded into the game, throwing bulky shoulder after bulky shoulder at Bristol’s lines.


Saints fly-half Carlos Spencer had an early chance to open the scoring after the visitors infringed in defence, but his kick went wide.


The let-off seemed to spur Northampton’s pack into action and they were soon stationed on Bristol’s line, and there they stayed for much of the half, doing not that much at all.


The TMO was summoned to rule on a possible grounding, but it was spilt. A kickable penalty was dispatched into the corner, but the ensuing move came to nought. Bristol centre Brian Lima was dispatched to the sin-bin, but Northampton failed to take advantage of their numbers.


With possession and territory steadfastly refusing to morph into points, pragmatism won through when another kickable penalty presented itself and Spencer made no mistake.


Bristol were the next side to come close when a penalty from Jason Strange drifting across the face of goal, but the Saints were soon re-pitched their tents at the other end of the field.


Again, the green forwards bundled over the line. Again, the TMO was called. Again, the evidence – or lack thereof – went against the hosts.


It was time for a change of tactics: Spencer, warming ever so slightly to the task in hand, began to bring his runners into play.


And it was thus that Ben Cohen notched up his 100th try for the club, benefiting from some clever play from Paul Diggin and Robbie Kydd to dive into the left corner. Spencer missed the tricky conversion, but the success-starved local fans seemed happy enough with the five-pointer.


The Saints deserved the try – they had denied Bristol even the faintest sniff on the ball. But somehow, after a full 40 minutes of play, all they had to show for their efforts was an 8-0 lead.


The frustrations of both sides boiled over after referee Sean Davey had blown for the break, with hair-pulling and face-pushing adding idiocy to the retreat to the changing rooms.


Northampton had a chance to add to their modest tally in the opening move of the second half as Bristol were pinged for pulling down at the line-out, but Spencer’s shot at goal didn’t have the legs.


It looked like we were in for a re-run of the first half, but Brian Lima had other ideas.


The fabled Samoan,

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