Amlin Challenge Cup 2014: Three talking points as Saints topple Bath
Amlin Challenge Cup 2014: Three talking points as Northampton Saints are 30-16 winners against Bath
Myler wins 10s battle
Stuart Lancaster may be a little pleased that George Ford will miss this summer’s tour of New Zealand on account of undergoing surgery next week. The England head coach is saved from a selection headache over whether to go with Ford or Stephen Myler as his second-choice 10 to Saracens star Owen Farrell. The Amlin Challenge Cup final certainly showed that if it weren’t for the fact that Farrell has been playing so well for club and country, Lancaster would certainly have a tough choice to make. As it happens, neither player is available for the match against the Barbarians at Twickenham on 1 June or the opening Test against New Zealand in Auckland on 7 June—nor is Farrell—giving Gloucester’s Freddie Burns and Sale’s Danny Cipriani the chance to stake a claim. Ford was immense in the first quarter of the match, sending the ball into space behind the Saints defence at will and held his nerve to land a monster kick from half way to get Bath on the board in the opening few minutes of the contest. Myler took longer to get going, and may have pulled his final kick with Saints 14 points ahead and just a few minutes remaining, but the 29-year-old came out on top against his less experienced counterpart as Ford wilted with three pressure kicks sent wide in still conditions and was, at times, guilty of poor/slow decision-making allowing Saints to pounce late in the game.
Chokers finally cough up a trophy
It must be tough being a Northampton Saints fan cheering on a team packed with England and British and Irish Lions representatives with a smattering of South Sea islanders. Without a trophy since 2010, Saints had lost in their last four finals in all competitions and, having already lost one final this season in March as Exeter claimed the LV=Cup, the Franklin’s Gardens faithful can be forgiven for being a little down after Bath dominated the first half to lead 13-6 at the break, especially as George Ford and co remained on the pitch at the beginning of half-time. Jim Mallinder’s Northampton Saints paid homage to the famous sporting cliche as they came from behind to win for the second time in as many matches. While Myler will take the plaudits for his man of the match performance led by his 20-point goal-kicking haul, credit should be heaped in abundance in the direction of captain for the night Tom Wood who was a beast at the breakdown and influential in winning the penalties that allowed Myler to apply a brand of scoreboard pressure that will be more agonising to Bath outside-half George Ford than the blades going into his injured shoulder next week. Branded chokers in the past, Saints will now feel they have the perfect platform to go to Twickenham to secure the Aviva Premiership trophy with a victory over Saracens.
Drained Bath let glory slip
For 60 minutes, the Challenge Cup was heading to the West Country before Northampton’s late surge ended hopes of celebration back at the Recreation Ground. Led by inspirational captain Francois Louw—who fought back from injury to take his place in the pack—Bath harassed and swarmed all over the Saints attack for long periods of the match giving Ford the chance to do his thing, but the hostility eventually cost them and they were powerless to deal with the strength of Northampton’s driving maul and well-built backs who started to find space on the break. The introduction for Saints of scrum-half Kahn Fotuali’i brought a different pressure as his kicking game led to the repeated confusion between Ford and Clermont-bound full-back Nick Abendanon and Mallinder’s side should have been broken through, only for replacement prop Alex Waller to knock on when he popped up on the right flank with the tryline beckoning. It was short-lived relief for Bath as Anthony Perenise was binned for the final 10 mintues and Wood led a driving maul up to and over the line with back-row colleague Dowson emerging with the ball. Even Bath’s final real attempt at a breakthrough came to nothing and ultimately cost them as a pass from replacement scrum-half Peter Stringer in the Saints’ 22 was intercepted by Myler, who ran the ball 60 metres before, finding George Pisi and Luther Burrell in support, a great ankle tap from Abendanon brought down the England centre and allowed Bath to pounce, but reinforcements in the sizeable frames of George North and Ben Foden managed to get the ball grounded and the trophy ending its 19-year journey in the East Midlands.