Northampton claim overdue win as Tommy Freeman and Dan Biggar down Bristol
It was Saints’ first win in the fixture since 2018 and halted Bristol’s minor recovery that had seen them claim back-to-back successes against London Irish and Worcester.
But while Bristol remain in the Premiership’s bottom three, Northampton comfortably retained a top-half place and they did it in bonus-point fashion.
Bristol were level early in the second-half, but they then fell away after tries from hooker Jake Kerr and centre Alapati Leiua, while Biggar’s opposite number Callum Sheedy added two penalties and two conversions.
Bristol welcomed back lock Chris Vui as one of three changes following their last Premiership game, while there were also starts for Kerr and wing Henry Purdy.
International stars Biggar and Courtney Lawes were among a host of players returning for Northampton following the Autumn Nations Series, with Lawes back in club colours after captaining England to victories over Australia and South Africa at Twickenham.
Bristol blasted out of the blocks and were ahead after just four minutes when they relentlessly drove a close-range lineout and Kerr claimed the touchdown, with Sheedy converting.
Biggar landed a penalty three minutes later that opened Northampton’s account, and there was refreshing intent from both teams to move possession wide at pace.
Biggar’s strike helped Northampton gained a foothold in the contest, before his second successful penalty ended an enterprising opening quarter that Bristol shaded by a point.
A Sheedy penalty took Bristol into double figures, yet Northampton continued creating on the back of impressive work by half-backs Biggar and Alex Mitchell and they drew level seven minutes before the break.
Bristol were asked questions of their defence, and Saints simply punched one hole too many as Hill crashed over from close range before Biggar’s conversion tied things up.
“A golden try would be amazing for this league”
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— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 26, 2021
And the visitors then struck from their next attack as Freeman sprinted over from 30 metres out, making the most of poor tackling, before another Biggar conversion made it 20-13 approaching half-time.
It was a quickfire double setback for Bristol, yet they still had a chance to score before the break after Biggar’s try-line drop-out went straight into touch and handed the home side a five-metre scrum.
But the Northampton forwards responded by shunting Bristol backwards and gained a penalty that Biggar booted into touch.
Bristol, though, had to wait barely three minutes of the second period to draw level, and they did so following a flowing move that ended with Leiua and wing Toby Fricker linking impressively before Leiua touched down.
Sheedy’s conversion made it 20-20, only for Biggar to restore Saints’ lead through a 54th-minute penalty as Northampton’s dominant scrum grew increasingly influential.
And it was an imposing scrum that gave the visitors a rock-solid attacking platform from which Mitchell darted clear and found Freeman, who finished impressively as Saints secured an eight-point advantage with 20 minutes left.
Bristol looked ragged, and Northampton punished them again as more impressive approach play resulted in a bonus-point touchdown for Furbank.
Saints then had a try for outstanding captain Lewis Ludlam disallowed but they were already home and dry before Biggar’s late penalty, underlining claims as genuine play-off contenders and leaving Bristol to reflect on a frustrating night.
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