Northampton hold off 14-man Bath in Premiership final

Northampton players raise their arms in celebration after the final whistle is blown
Northampton's win was only their second Premiership title in the club's history [Getty Images]

Gallagher Premiership final

Northampton (15) 25

Tries: Freeman, Sleightholme, Mitchell Pens: Smith Cons: Smith, Furbank Drop-goal: Smith

Bath (10) 21

Tries: Du Toit, Muir Pens: Russell 3 Cons: Russell

Northampton Saints claimed their first Premiership title since 2014 as they held off a fierce fightback from 14-man Bath to edge to a narrow 25-21 victory at Twickenham.

Saints scrum-half Alex Mitchell scored the winning try with seven minutes left after Bath had come from behind to lead despite the dismissal of prop Beno Obano 21 minutes in.

Tommy Freeman and Ollie Sleightholme put Saints in front but Thomas du Toit and Will Muir brought Bath level before Finn Russell's penalty put the 14 men ahead.

However, Northampton's numerical advantage eventually paid off as they turned the table in their favour when it mattered and held on to be crowned champions for the first time in a decade, having finished top of the regular season's league table.

Northampton have set the bar in the English Premiership this season and despite this display not being as vintage a performance as their fans might have enjoyed in previous months, Saints still produced the magic they needed when it counted.

George Hendy weaved through the Bath defence and off-loaded to Mitchell to score under the posts in Saints' first final appearance since they were last crowned champions a decade ago and with a host of club legends bowing out after this season.

Bath will be left to rue what could have been but will take pride in pulling off an outstanding performance in response to losing a player so early in the match, coming from 15-3 down to lead 21-18 before ultimately falling narrowly short.

Beno Obano is shown a red card for Bath early in the first half of the Premiership final against Northampton
Bath played most of the match with 14 players after Beno Obano was sent off [Getty Images]

Bath came into the final having not lifted the Premiership trophy since 1996, while Saints' title win 10 years ago was their solitary triumph in the competition.

And the tension of the occasion was apparent for most of the opening 20 minutes, with neither side able to get into a flow as most of the play was scrappily stop-start.

Bath leapt on a loose pass from Sleightholme inside 60 seconds, with Matt Gallagher sprinting after the kick-on from Muir but unable to collect it to open the scoring.

Russell sliced his first penalty effort off target after Saints were penalised at the scrum before making it 3-0 to Bath with a second attempt from closer in following another Northampton infringement.

Saints gradually started to dominate possession but Bath’s defence resolutely stood firm despite being shoved side to side.

Northampton fly-half Fin Smith, like Russell, missed his first penalty but made amends straight away, firing a drop-goal over as their attack struggled to make forward ground.

Yet the turning point came when Obano was shown a straight red card, following a lengthy deliberation between referee Christophe Ridley and the television match official, for a high tackle on Saints number eight Juarno Augustus.

Obano was in tears as he took his seat on the sidelines and Bath's head of rugby Johann van Graan was forced to tactically shuffle his pack with 60 minutes remaining and a player disadvantage.

The gaps in Bath’s line instantly showed and Saints full-back George Furbank darted through and off-loaded to winger Freeman to run over in space and get the first try.

Minutes later, Sleightholme chased his own grubber in a Saints three-on-one, shrugged off a defender and tapped down to extend Northampton’s lead to 15-3.

Still, Bath kept themselves in the game as Du Toit pulled a crucial score back, powering over from close range to narrow the gap to five points at the break.

Russell kicked a second penalty as the second half began to reduce Saints’ lead to two points, before Smith retaliated with his own to push it straight back out again.

But Bath impressively levelled at 18-18 when Muir caught a Spencer cross-field kick out wide, beat Hendy in the air and tapped down, although Russell’s second awry kick of the match failed to give them the lead.

Northampton began to unravel as a 50:22 kick from Russell pushed Bath right down the field to launch another attack and repeated knock-ons and scrum penalties gave them momentum.

Saints finished top of the pack this season for a reason, though - and, out of nothing, Hendy ran circles around Bath before Mitchell side-stepped his defender to go over, and secure their second-ever Premiership title.

Northampton: Furbank; Freeman, Odendaal, Dingwall, Sleightholme; Smith, Mitchell; Waller, Langdon, Davison, Moon, Coles, Lawes (c), Pearson, Augustus.

Replacements: Matavesi, Iyogun, Mills, Mayanavanua, Graham, Ludlam, James, Hendy.

Bath: Gallagher; Cokanasiga, Lawrence, Redpath, Muir; Russell, Spencer (c); Obano, Dunn, Du Toit, Roux, Ewels, Hill, Underhill, Barbeary.

Replacements: Annett, Schoeman, Stuart, Stooke, Bayliss, Schreuder, Bailey, Reid.

Red card: Beno Obano (21 mins)

Referee: Christophe Ridley