Northampton’s unbeaten run snapped by monster Bristol performance

Leaders Northampton saw their six-game unbeaten run in the Gallagher Premiership come to a grinding halt as Bristol demolished them 52-21 at Ashton Gate.

Saints still top the table, yet a return to Premiership action after an eight-week break while the Guinness Six Nations played out went badly wrong.

It was their first league defeat since November and they could have no complaints after Bristol stormed clear through tries from lock Joe Batley and scrum-half Harry Randall during an early points burst.

Fly-half AJ MacGinty added two conversions and a penalty before second-half scores from prop Kyle Sinckler, Batley’s second-row partner James Dun and wing Gabriel Ibitoye, plus replacements Max Malins and Fred Davies, with MacGinty landing four more conversions and James Williams one, securing Bristol a bonus-point triumph.

Bristol’s victory kept them in with a fighting chance of reaching the play-offs, but it was a night to forget for Northampton, whose points came via two Ollie Sleightholme tries, a Jake Garside touchdown and three Fin Smith conversions.

Bristol had to absorb early pressure as torrential rain swept across the ground, but they went ahead after just six minutes.

Saints scrum-half Archie McParland, making his first Premiership start, had an attempted defensive clearance kick charged down by Batley, who gathered a kind bounce and swept aside full-back George Hendy’s challenge for a try that MacGinty converted.

Bristol oozed confidence after Batley’s score and they twice went close from driven lineouts before a MacGinty penalty made it 10-0 midway through the first half.

Northampton struggled to cope with Bristol’s pace and width and the visiting defence was then unlocked in spectacular fashion.

MacGinty made a superb break from halfway and his inside ball to Randall sent the scrum-half on a 40-metre sprint to the line. MacGinty converted and Northampton were in all kinds of trouble.

Saints needed to score next, but, despite several attacking phases inside Bristol’s 22, they could not breach the home defence and then conceded a penalty.

Bristol had wing Siva Naulago yellow-carded for a deliberate knock-on and he had barely left the pitch before Northampton opened their account.

Sleightholme appeared as first-receiver from a lineout 20 metres from Bristol’s line and he showcased impressive strength to leave four defenders floundering, with Smith’s conversion cutting Saints’ deficit to 10 points.

Randall made another attacking surge as the interval approached, which Northampton managed to halt, then MacGinty missed an angled penalty chance that would have extended Bristol’s advantage by the break.

England prop Ellis Genge went on for Bristol early in the second period and he was soon in the thick of things as Northampton found themselves under relentless pressure.

Saints skipper Lewis Ludlam was sin-binned following the latest in a series of infringements by his team and Bristol punished them when Sinckler crashed over for a try, with MacGinty converting.

Back came Northampton, though, as Sleightholme claimed his second touchdown of the game by gathering Smith’s well-placed kick and capitalising on sloppy Bristol defensive work.

Smith converted, yet Bristol immediately went back on the attack and their adventure was rewarded through a Dun touchdown. MacGinty’s conversion took his team past 30 points.

Northampton appeared well beaten and there was an ease about Bristol’s fifth try as Malins sprinted through a huge gap and Garside’s 66th-minute touchdown was nothing more than consolation, with Davies’ score resuming normal service and Ibitoye adding a final try.


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