Northampton hold off brave Bristol at Franklin's Gardens
Bristol continued their recent revival with a deserved point from a 32-26 defeat to Northampton at Franklin's Gardens in an enthralling clash that only saw them fall behind with seven minutes to go.
The west country side were drawing 26-26 after a wonder try from Jason Woodward, who also kicked 16 points to add to Mitch Eadie's try, with 20 minutes to go.
But Northampton stepped up a gear, keeping the final quarter in Bristol's half and the pressure told with a penalty for Stephen Myler, who kicked 12 points, with replacement Harry Mallinder making sure with a drop-goal.
Louis Picamoles, JJ Hanrahan, Mikey Haywood and captain Tom Wood scored Northampton's tries as they secured their first home try bonus point of the season.
But it took some effort to break a rejuvenated Bristol side. Tom Varndell almost broke the record Premiership try-scoring record in the seventh minute as he juggled an offload five metres from the line, but the wing, who is level with Mark Cueto on 90 scores, was smashed into touch by George North.
And another superb show of strength from North set up the opening try. North powered through two tackles on his 10-metre line to get Saints up to the opposition's 22. Ben Foden stabbed through only for Woodward to beat Jamie Elliott, who had to leave the field afterwards with what looked like a serious injury to his right arm.
But from the resulting five-metre scrum, Picamoles picked up and dived over to give Saints the lead on 13 minutes. Myler's conversion made it 7-0.
Woodward reduced the arrears immediately with three points and a smart offload from Nick Fenton-Wells, after wing Jack Wallace had made ground on the right touchline, saw number eight Eadie score from five metres. Woodward added the extras to give the visitors a 10-7 lead after 22 minutes.
Woodward extended the lead with a penalty from 40 metres after centre Will Hurrell trapped Luther Burrell with the ball.
Five minutes before the break Saints, at the third attempt, scored a second try through a lineout drive, with hooker Haywood touching down. Myler converted and the home side were 14-13 ahead.
Saints extended their lead with a devastating display of power from Picamoles. The French international picked up from the back of a scrum on the 22 and then steamed through two defenders, shrugged off a double-team effort and held off another tackler to offload to Wood, who sprinted over next to the posts. Myler added the extras.
Woodward replied with a penalty for Bristol and then scored a superb try from his own 22. Instead of kicking for touch a deft chip bounced into Varndell's hands and he sprinted clear before passing inside for Woodward to touch down under the posts. Woodward converted as well to put the visitors ahead.
But this ding-dong match took another immediate twist, as from the re-start Will Cliff's kick was charged down by Hanrahan and he collected to score the fourth try for Northampton.
Myler missed the touchline conversion which allowed Woodward to draw Bristol level with 20 minutes to go with a 40-metre penalty.
Bristol skipper Olly Robinson won a turnover on his try-line to relieve a mountain of pressure after a surge from Saints replacement Jamie Gibson, but a penalty saw Myler put Northampton in front with seven minutes to go and Mallinder extended the lead four minutes later with a drop-goal.