Northampton end Bath run
Reigning Aviva Premiership champions Northampton ended Bath's 100 per cent league record this season as they posted a gripping 31-24 victory after an intense battle at Franklin's Gardens.
An early penalty try and touchdown by flanker Calum Clark put Saints in the driving seat before second-half tries from lock Christian Day and centre George Pisi sealed a bonus point win.
Fly-half Stephen Myler converted all four tries and kicked a penalty, but Bath - 45-0 conquerors of Leicester last weekend - did not go quietly as they registered tries through prop David Wilson, wing Olly Woodburn and substitute front-row forward Nick Auterac, which kept them alive, with George Ford booting a penalty and three conversions.
Bath were ultimately brought down to earth following their points blitz at Tigers' expense, but Northampton still had to ensure a late scare as scores during the final quarter from Woodburn and Auterac kept Bath in touch and also clinched a losing bonus point from 31-10 adrift.
And the visitors almost delivered a fourth try with just two minutes remaining, driving over Northampton's line, but television match official Rowan Kitt ruled the ball had not been grounded after Saints skipper Dylan Hartley appeared to get his body in the way of an attempted Bath score.
Northampton, back on home soil for the first time since they thumped Gloucester 53-6 three weeks ago, welcomed back Myler and prop Alex Corbisiero from the side that comfortably accounted for Newcastle last Sunday, but Corbisiero's fellow England forwards - lock Courtney Lawes (shoulder) and flanker Tom Wood (back) - were absent after failing late fitness tests.
Bath, meanwhile, showed two enforced switches as injuries sidelined wing Matt Banahan and flanker Carl Fearns, which meant call-ups for Woodburn and Alafoti Fa'osiliva.
There was a minute's applause before kick-off for Luis Ghaut, one of Saints' mascots at the Premiership final last season, who died earlier this week at the age of 13 from a rare form of bone cancer and for whom Northampton players were major supporters.
And it was Saints that dominated in terms of early territory before they surged ahead after seven minutes following a sparkling break by full-back Ben Foden.
Foden's flair caused panic in the Bath defence, and when visiting full-back Luke Arscott deliberately knocked forward an intended pass from Kahn Fotuali'i to Myler, it resulted in a yellow card for Arscott and a penalty try awarded by referee Tim Wigglesworth following television match official consultation.
Myler added the conversion, and Northampton were good value for a 7-0 advantage in front of watching England coaches Graham Rowntree and Andy Farrell as Bath looked to regroup in their temporary 14-man state.
But it was to no avail, as Northampton kept them under sustained pressure and a second try arrived after 15 minutes when Bath ran out of defensive numbers and Clark crossed unmarked wide out before Myler converted.
Bath had to score next or face a long afternoon at the office, and they obliged following some concerted approach work by their forwards before Ford's clever inside pass found Wilson, who powered over for a well-worked try that saw Ford add the extras.
A Myler penalty, though, made it 17-7 to Saints, and despite Ford quickly responding with his opening penalty, Northampton were good value for their interval advantage.
And they extended that lead within 10 minutes of the restart after Saints kept their patience in attack, inspired by the outstanding Foden, and Day touched down in the corner after Bath's defence had been repeatedly sucked in.
Myler's superb touchline conversion reopened a 14-point gap, and Bath once again had it all to do, unable to cope with sustained Northampton support play that ensured they scored almost every time they entered the so-called red zone.
And the bonus point score arrived after 54 minutes when Foden's defence-splitting pass provided Saints with an extra runner out wide, which they capitalised on through the powerful Pisi.
Myler's conversion made it 31-10, but Bath hit back through substitute Gavin Henson providing a scoring assist for Woodburn, then hard-working Auterac scored as the visitors - assisted by two Ford conversions - moved to within striking distance.
The closing minutes proved frantic and furious with little pattern, yet Bath's replacements' bench had made a noticable difference and Northampton found themselves defending inside their own 22 as the clock ticked down.
And there was late drama as the TMO found himself pressed into action, and Saints breathed a collective sigh of relief when the final whistle sounded to confirm a five-point maximum.