Premiership Rugby

Premiership Rugby Final Recap: Saints Stave Off 14-Man Bath For Title

Premiership Rugby Final Recap: Saints Stave Off 14-Man Bath For Title

Bath never quit, even while playing over half of the match a man down, but the scintillating Saints won English rugby's top prize at a sold-out Twickenham.

Jun 8, 2024 by Briar Napier
Premiership Rugby Final Recap: Saints Stave Off 14-Man Bath For Title

It’s the end of an era for the Northampton Saints this weekend.

But for what was Premiership Rugby’s most pulsating club of the 2023-2024 season, a new age officially has commenced for it in the best of ways.

The Saints won a breakneck Premiership Rugby final Saturday at a sold-out Twickenham Stadium, defeating pesky Bath by a 25-21 margin to both win the club’s first top-flight title since 2014 and say goodbye to departing club legends Alex Waller, Courtney Lawes and Lewis Ludlam with a high note on their way out.

Waller and Lawes, the only two remaining Saints from their league title a decade ago, both started and helped steer Northampton past a never-say-die Bath, which had to play around an hour with 14 men and nearly pulled off a late stunner to end a 28-year championship drought.

Ahead 21-18 with less than 10 minutes to play thanks to a deadlock-breaking penalty from Scotland international and talisman Finn Russell, Bath appeared set to potentially hold on and pull off one of the most remarkable victories in Premiership final history. 

But dared to respond, Northampton did just that, getting a crucial moment near the end from its youth during the swan song for some of its veteran leadership.

Substitute George Hendy surged past several Bath defenders on a sensational run before finding a trailing Alex Mitchell on the offload for a go-ahead try in the 74th minute, pulling off another box-office moment of magic that Northampton has thrived on all season at just the right time.

Bath’s final charge got it within 10 meters of the try line, but Hendy — who at 21 became the youngest official man of the match, plus the only substitute to win it, in Premiership final history — managed to pry the ball away from Bath’s grasp to seal the win and ensure that the Saints could close their spectacular season with a historic moment. 

Though it was jubilation for Northampton as it won its second Premiership title in club history, Bath by no means made it easy, even with the odds stacked against it.

With the scores level at 3-3 just over midway through the first half, Bath prop Beno Obano was sent off for an indisputable high tackle with plenty of head-to-head contact, putting the six-time Premiership champions at a major disadvantage the rest of the way.

Back-to-back Saints tries within six minutes of the ruling via Tommy Freeman and the league’s top try-scorer, Ollie Sleightholme, made it 15-3 and signaled that a potentially long afternoon was coming for Bath. 

But in trademark fashion for South African coach Johann van Graan, who has led Bath’s rise back up English rugby after finishing rock-bottom in the Premiership two seasons ago, the club found a way to rise up from a seemingly impossible position.

Thomas du Toit scored prior to halftime to give Bath some life going into the dressing room as it entered it a more reasonable 15-10 down, with a Russell penalty not long after kickoff cutting the deficit to two points. A response from Russell’s England counterpart, Fin Smith, put the margin back up to five points in favour of the Saints a few minutes later.

But once again, Bath managed to squeeze water out of stone.

Ben Spencer booted from the back of a ruck toward the left corner, where an aerial battle for the ball ensued between Hendy and Will Muir. Hendy lost the battle and all Muir needed to do was pounce on the bouncing ball to make it 18-18, and from that point, it was game on.

Even with the man disadvantage, Bath stayed hungry and dangerous, giving the Saints fits. Bath eventually forced its opponent into a penalty for the pinpoint Russell with under a quarter of an hour left, and his kick got Bath the lead and put it in sight of an epic victory.

Hendy’s late heroics to make up for his mistake on Muir’s try, however, did Bath in. And while the Saints by no means had the game locked up when Mitchell got the five-pointer, they could certainly breathe a little easier for the final few minutes of the match.

Northampton won the league title in their first appearance in the final (and fourth overall) since Waller scored a famous try in extra time to beat Saracens in 2014. 

Bath was brutally denied a title in its fifth appearance in the final since its last championship in 1996, but there is plenty of momentum going forward for one of the oldest and most storied rugby clubs in existence.

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