Premiership: Northampton Saints 22-23 Bath Rugby – Zach Mercer scores twice as Bath reverse 16-point deficit

Zach Mercer scores for Bath
Zach Mercer’s brace of tries sealed what seemed to be an unlikely comeback for the visitors
Northampton (19) 22
Tries: James 2, Freeman Cons: Francis 2 Pen: Francis
Bath (10) 23
Tries: Mercer 2 Cons: Priestland 2 Pens: Priestland 3

Two tries from number eight Zach Mercer saw Bath overturn a 16-point first-half deficit to beat Northampton 23-22.

Two Tom James tries in the opening 20 minutes and one from Tommy Freeman saw Saints dominate much of the first half.

But Mercer got a try back on the stroke of half-time and Rhys Priestland landed three penalties before Mercer’s second put Bath ahead 13 minutes from time.

Saints’ Matt Proctor was held up six minutes from the end as Bath held on for a famous comeback win.

The win sees Bath stay in 10th place in the Premiership table, but their fifth win of the season moves them level on points with Leicester, while Northampton remain fifth after getting a losing bonus point.

Having beaten champions Exeter last week, Saints had a spring in their step and looked dangerous both with ball in hand and at the scrum where they had the better of the Bath pack in the opening period.

Rory Hutchinson knocked on as he went for the Bath corner in the ninth minute, but three minutes later James sniped from the base of a maul five metres out to go over, before he gathered in an offload from Taqele Naiyaravoro to cruise in for a second.

Rhys Priestland
Rhys Priestland’s record of 32 successful consecutive place kicks comes in his final season at Bath before he returns to Wales in the summer

Priestland’s first penalty to get Bath on the scoreboard saw the Welshman level the Premiership record of 28 consecutive successful kicks before 19-year-old Freeman was on the end of another flowing move to score on just his sixth senior appearance for Northampton, with Piers Francis’ conversion giving Saints a 19-3 lead.

Bath failed to have any significant possession in the Northampton 22 until the 37th minute, but they made their presence count when Mercer went over from close range.

Priestland landed the conversion for a 29th successive successful kick to break the record previously held jointly by Jonny Wilkinson and Mark van Gisbergen.

Saints’ Lewis Ludlam had a 51st-minute try for the hosts chalked off for a knock-on and his team-mates’ discipline started to desert them as Bath’s set-piece improved after the introduction of a new front row before Priestland landed two more penalties.

Francis responded with a penalty of his own for Saints before Mercer stormed in for his second score after Ben Spencer’s delicate chip over the defence was gathered by Josh Matavesi, who fed the forward to go over.

Priestland converted to take his tally to five successful kicks from five on the day and extend the record to 32.

Saints thought they had snatched victory late on, but replacement scrum-half Spencer superbly held up Saints’ Kiwi centre Proctor in the right corner.

Northampton Saints director of rugby Chris Boyd told BBC Radio Northampton:

“We’d had such a gutsy performance last week and then you turn around and have a half performance.

“If you want to be considered a genuine team you’ve got to have consistency around your performance and your outcome.

“The outcome hurts, but the performance was equally as poor, even down to that last 10 minutes we probably had three chances we should have converted into points.”

Bath director of rugby Stuart Hooper told BBC Radio Bristol:

“I’m massively proud of the boys, you never see everything that goes on, but some of these lads, the shape they’ve been in this week, the work that they’ve done to put themselves out on the field and then to get through the work that they did is outstanding.

“This is the Premiership, this is the toughest club competition in the world, and to be able to come to places like this and win is outstanding from our players.

“It’s nice to knit the wins together and it shows that the lads are enjoying it and putting those performances together shows that they’re working in the week as well, so I’m pleased.”

Northampton: Freeman; Proctor, Hutchinson, Francis, Naiyaravoro; Furbank, James; Auterac, S Matavesi, Painter, Ribbans, Ratuniyarawa, Isiekwe, Ludlam (capt), Wood.

Replacements: Marshall, Waller, Hill, Moon, Coles, Taylor, Mallinder, Sleightholme.

Bath: T Schoeman; Rokodoguni, Joseph, J Matavesi, Muir; Priestland, Chudley; J Schoeman, Walker, Judge, Ellis, Stooke, Bayliss (capt), Reid, Mercer.

Replacements: Dunn, Bhatti, Thomas, Richards, Staddon, Spencer, Clark, McConnochie.

Referee: Ian Tempest (RFU).

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