Northampton director of rugby Chris Boyd admitted his side’s inability to take their chances cost them dear after seeing Bristol snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in the final minute at Ashton Gate.
Saints had looked poised to claim a shock upset only for Bears replacement Sam Bedlow to slot over a 45-metre penalty with the final kick of the game to earn the home side a dramatic 18-17 win.
It was a 15th defeat in their last 17 games for Northampton but Boyd felt they should have been celebrating victory from a “much improved” display.
He said: “We were authors of our destiny as we should have been able to close out the game as we had plenty of chances to do so.
“We made a very good start and our defence was strong and overall it was a much improved performance.
“We conceded a few vital penalties at the scrum area and one of their props was laughing after one of them after the scrum had collapsed.
“We won’t be waving any white flags just yet.”
David Ribbans and Piers Francis crossed for Northampton in the opening 15 minutes with James Grayson converting both and adding a penalty.
Henry Purdy and Piers O’Conor replied with tries for Bristol. Bedlow converted one of them, while he and Tiff Eden slotted over penalties.
Bedlow’s penalty, awarded after a Saints’ forward had been penalised for a deliberate knock-on, saw Bears grab victory right at the death.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) December 4, 2020
Bristol director of rugby Pat Lam said: “We started badly by making silly errors and after 30 minutes the rain came which made it extra hard for us as we had to claw back their lead.
“We didn’t put enough pressure on their line-out in the first half but our forwards got better and better after the interval.
“We didn’t panic in the last 10 minutes, which was a good thing, and we found a way to win.”
Bristol’s match-winner Bedlow had been originally selected in the staring line-up but dropped to the bench after suffering a groin strain just prior to the game and was replaced by Eden, who missed two crucial penalties.
Lam said: “Sam strained a groin in the warm-up and it was his kicking leg so we thought it would be better if he finished the last 20 minutes instead of starting.
“I am pleased we’ve got 10 points from our first three league games as we have been sorely depleted and I think those points will serve us in good stead to secure a top four placing at the end of the season.”
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