Amlin Challenge Cup
Myler lays foundations for Saints' triumph
Tom Hamilton at the Arms Park
May 23, 2014
Northampton celebrate their triumph © Getty Images
The Northampton Saints will go to Twickenham next weekend with one half of the double jigsaw hammered into place. Stephen Myler's pinpoint kicking laid the foundations for their win over Bath but it was the power of their backline that proved too much for Bath in the end.
It was a scrappy match, with at times both teams' bread and butter set pieces letting them down but the Saints seemed to have another gear in the final throws of the match. At the centre of it all was Luther Burrell who put in a magnificent performance in front of the watching Stuart Lancaster.
The Amlin Challenge Cup has lost its prize of guaranteed qualification for the new European Rugby Champions Cup next term but there was no quarter given on the field as players put bruised bodies on the line for the sake of their team. Tom Wood put in a huge amount of work while the Pisi brothers frequently tried to inject some tempo into a Saints backline that at times lacked the fluidity we have seen from them this season.
But when you have the likes of Kahn Fotuali'i to bring on, if you are within touching distance of the opposition heading into the final 20 minutes, you must fancy your chances. Place kicking can be a cruel practise, either way it is likely to feature in post-mortems when it comes to assessing finals. On Friday night, George Ford left nine points on the field while his opposite number Stephen Myler missed all but one but by that time the tide had turned in Northampton's favour.
But highlighting Ford's missed kicks at the posts would do a gross disservice to Myler who was deadly while Burrell showed why he is one of England's key weapons in their team. While Lancaster would have taken heart from his performance, he would have lamented not having Alex Corbisiero at his disposal for the New Zealand tour with the Saints loose-head putting in a commanding performance, bar his yellow card.
Sometimes small margins decide matches. At half-time it looked like it was Bath's to lose. Carl Fearns was dominating the breakdown while Jonathan Joseph was doing his best to disrupt the Saints' tempo. Dave Attwood also performed well but his team lost their way in the early part of the second-half. The Saints know what it takes to close out matches like this, Bath will learn but a team who injected plenty of new faces last summer will take time to build the understanding Northampton have. They had to go through the agonising defeat against Leinster back in 2011 to get where they are today.
And all this was played out in front of a fantastic atmosphere at the Arms Park. The travelling band Los Mukos from Bayonne kept the fans vocal with Abba's songs getting a good airing. The atmosphere was also frantic and feisty but it was the Saints' who were left marching around the Cardiff turf at the full-time whistle as their theme tune boomed out from the stadium's PA.
They now have a chance to secure the Premiership title next weekend and will no doubt be watching Saturday's Heineken Cup final to see how their opponents Saracens fare. While the Saints were left with the Challenge Cup, they know they will have to replicate this and perhaps find another level if they are to secure the double at Twickenham.
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Tom Hamilton is the Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.