In what was shaping up to be an advert for why less is more when it comes to domestic rugby, a handful of England hopefuls eventually put themselves in the international shop window and catapulted Bath to a third straight Premiership victory since the restart.
The wing Ruaridh McConnochie came off the bench to score the decisive try and give the watching Eddie Jones a timely reminder of his talents, while the scrum-half Ben Spencer, another replacement, also put down a marker for an England spot this autumn.
The man of the match, meanwhile, was Beno Obano, the gregarious loosehead prop who has been on the fringes of international recognition, only for injury to strike. Clearly he is flourishing with Neal Hatley as coach.
A cagey battle between fifth and sixth was already beginning to swing in Bath’s favour after the 20-year-old fullback Tom de Glanville – the son of the former England captain Phil – produced a fine finish under considerable pressure for the first try of the match. He was injured in the process, replaced and required further attention to a worrying looking head/neck injury. His intervention, on his first Premiership start, was just as important as McConnochie’s that settled matters.
“We are making sure we look after Tom the best we can. He took a hit, credit for him for scoring the try, but thoughts are with him at the moment,” said the Bath director of rugby, Stuart Hooper.
McConnochie’s try was more opportunist, capitalising on Sam Matavesi’s mistake to race clear, but having not featured for England since last year’s World Cup he will be delighted Jones was in attendance to see it. All the more so because it made sure Northampton, now on a losing run of five matches at home, were put to bed and moved Bath up into fourth place.
Roundup: Saracens 36-20 Gloucester, Worcester 29-14 Harlequins
Tom Woolstencroft enjoyed a dream first outing with the Saracens captaincy by scoring a hat-trick of tries in their 36-20 victory over Gloucester at Allianz Park. The hooker, standing in in the absence of Brad Barritt, delivered a standout performance by dotting down three times in 20 minutes, while a Ben Harris try on his debut and Tom Whiteley’s effort capped the win. Stephen Varney, Henry Walker and Louis Rees-Zammit did notch tries for the visitors but Saracens proved too good in the second half to secure their 11th league win of the season and leave Gloucester eighth.
Worcester blew a huge hole in Harlequins’ play-off hopes by posting an impressive 29-14 victory at Sixways. The Warriors forwards were in unstoppable form, with Worcester scoring three first-half tries direct from driving mauls to underpin a first Premiership win of 2020. The No 8 Cornell Du Preez, the centre Ollie Lawrence and the hooker Niall Annett all touched down before scrum-half Francois Hougaard’s 39th-minute score secured a bonus-point and Duncan Weir kicked three conversions before adding a second-half penalty.Quins, 11 points adrift of the play-offs before kick-off, trailed 26-0 at the break, and there was no way back. The wing Chris Ashton and the hooker Elia Elia claimed consolation tries for Quins, with James Lang adding both conversions, but Worcester were already over the horizon.
With Northampton changing all 15 of their starting lineup and Bath 13 it was an understandably sloppy start, dreadful for the first hour, and certainly not an endorsement of midweek matches. Bath eked out a 3-0 lead when a man up, with Josh Matavesi on target with a penalty. JJ Tonks was sent to the sin-bin when the referee, Christophe Ridley, adjudged the Northampton flanker to have made a dangerous tackle on Zach Mercer.
Dan Biggar missed his first attempt for Saints but was on the money with his second – in truth he could not miss from right in front of the posts, capitalising on a period of pressure that led to their hulking wing Taqele Naiyaravoro blasting through Mike Williams.
In the second half it was Naiyaravoro again, off his left wing, who burst through a gap but once more a combination of white-line fever for Northampton and resolute Bath defence kept the score at 3-3.
Having kept their hosts at bay, Bath turned to their bench and it had the desired impact. Spencer’s box-kick was fumbled by Ahsee Tuala and the ball was worked to De Glanville, who just about managed to get it down in the left-hand corner despite the efforts of Tommy Freeman and Rory Hutchinson.
Northampton kept plugging away but as the clock ticked down increasingly they tried to force the issue and McConnochie, showing no little dexterity, pounced on the loose ball to streak clear for a fifth try in his past six matches. Rhys Priestland’s penalty only served to rub salt into Saints’ wounds.