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Northampton Saints strike late to claim Premiership title

Northampton Saints edged Bath Rugby 25-21 in a heart-stopping Gallagher Premiership final at Twickenham. 

Alex Mitchell’s late try snatched victory from the jaws of defeat for the Saints, but other scores from Tommy Freeman and Ollie Sleightholme were enough to win Northampton’s first title since 2014.

A shaky start nearly gifted Bath the early lead. An Ollie Sleightholme knock-on was scooped up by Bath and kicked ahead; however Matt Gallagher couldn’t hold onto the ball under the tackle of Ollie Sleightholme.

Bath kept the pressure on, and eventually took the lead through the boot of Finn Russell.

Errors were costing Northampton. Alex Mitchell spilled the ball out of a ruck, and Bath nearly made them pay. Sam Underhill scooped up the loose ball and charged down the pitch. The ball was swiftly put into the hands of Will Muir, however he was dragged into touch by a covering George Furbank.

READ MORE: George Furbank: NorthamptonSaints leaning to big game experience to win title

Northampton began to edge their way back into the game. A Fin Smith penalty might have hit the post, but he was back minutes later with a clever drop-goal to pull the Saints level.

A red card to Beno Obano gave Northampton numerical advantage, and they made it count instantly through Tommy Freeman. George Furbank steamed through a gaping hole in the Bath defence, and he put the try on a plate for his winger.

Bath nearly responded instantly. Spencer’s cross-field kick unlocked the Northampton defence, but it rolled into touch just before Gallagher could reach it.

Defence quickly turned into attack for the Saints, and it ended with Sleightholme extending their lead. A lovely strike move found the ball in the wingers hands. He then put in a cheeky grubber-kick to beat Will Muir, and he pounced on the ball to score.

Bath responded well though, and eventually grabbed their first try of the afternoon. Tom Dunn spun out of a maul to bring Bath just inches away from the Northampton line, however his front-row college Thomas du Toit was the man to get his name up in lights as he burrowed over from short range.

In the final stages of the half, Northampton went in search of their third try. Powerful carries from Burger Odendaal, Courtney Lawes and Tom Pearson nearly broke through the defence, but 14-man Bath stood tall, keeping the scores 15-10 going into the break.

George Hendy heroics wins title for Northampton Saints

The second-half began in frantic fashion. A Russell penalty gave Bath three more points. Northampton could of had one of their own, however their gamble of going to the corner didn’t pay off as Juarno Augustus knocked the ball on in contact and the chance went amiss.

Northampton didn’t make the same mistake twice though, as Smith slotted a penalty kick minutes later.

Bath responded well. Surges from Tom Dunn and Sam Underhill unlocked the Saints defence, but it took clever thinking from Ben Spencer to finally get over the line. The scrum-half’s pinpoint cross-field kick was spilled by George Hendy, and Muir pounced on the ball to pull his team level.

A wonderful 50:22 from Russell allowed Bath to set-up camp in Northampton’s 22, however just as they looked to deliver the killer blow Ollie Lawrence’s offload couldn’t find Joe Cokanasiga’s hands.

A du Toit turnover kept the pressure on for the West Country outfit, but a forward pass again cost them a precious chance to regain the lead.

This was quickly compounded by a penalty, and Northampton survived.

Bath couldn’t be denied for long though. A string of Saints penalties motored Bath down the pitch, which allowed Russell to put them back in the lead.

READ MORE: Alex Mitchell: “Everyone appreciates that it is the last dance”

Northampton quickly marched into Bath’s 22, however another costly knock-on saw the chance go begging. As had happened for much of the game, the error was compounded with a scrum penalty, and Bath escaped scot-free.

With the clock winding down, Northampton took the lead. A fantastic break from George Hendy unlocked the Bath defence, and he connected with Alex Mitchell to send the scrum-half scampering in for the try.

Bath had one final chance to snatch the win at the end, but brilliant defence from Hendy ripped the ball out of Orlando Bailey’s hands, allowing Fraser Dingwall to boot the ball out of play to crown Northampton Saints as Premiership champions.

Northampton Saints 25-21 Bath Rugby

Northampton Saints: 25

Tries: Freeman, Sleightholme, Mitchell

Conversions: Smith (1/2), Furbank (1/1)

Penalties: Smith (1/2)

Drop-goals: Smith (1/1)

Bath Rugby: 21

Tries: du Toit, Muir

Conversions: Russell (1/2)

Penalties: Russell (3/4)