Premiership: Northampton Saints 32-26 Bristol
|Northampton (14) 32|
|Tries: Picamoles, Haywood, Wood, Hanrahan Cons: Myler 3 Pen: Myler Drop Goal: Mallinder|
|Bristol (13) 26|
|Tries: Fenton-Wells, Woodward Cons: Woodward 2 Pens: Woodward 4|
Northampton Saints earned a third Premiership victory in a row but they had to battle to overcome a resurgent Bristol at Franklin's Gardens.
Bristol played their part in a superb game and deserved the losing bonus point which saw them move to within one point of 11th-placed Worcester.
Bristol's Jason Woodward scored a try, two conversions and four penalties.
But Louis Picamoles, Mike Haywood, Tom Wood and JJ Hanrahan's tries gave the hosts a valuable bonus-point victory.
Nick Fenton-Wells had also crossed for the visitors in an even first half, and a draw had looked likely at 26-26 in the closing stages.
But a Stephen Myler penalty and then a late Harry Mallinder drop goal clinched it for Saints.
Bristol, who were without suspended centre Tusi Pisi, were bidding for a shock third straight league win after losing their first 10 Premiership games since promotion.
They were inspired by an in-form Woodward, who combined well with Tom Varndell for arguably the best try of the match, crossing under the posts after a swift counter.
Picamoles and Myler were at the centre of most things Saints did well, as they moved up to fifth in the table after exerting a strong spell of pressure in the final 15 minutes.
Northampton first-team coach Alan Dickens:
"There was an air of frustration afterwards, but we will take the win.
"When we scored our third try there was a time where we thought we were going to go away from them and then we lost the ball about 30 metres from their line, it might have been Alex Waller, and from the resulting scrum they had the chip-kick and scored under our posts.
"Credit to Bristol, they are a much-improved team from the one we beat in the second game of the season. Fair play to the job Mark Tainton has done over recent weeks.
"They have picked a more mobile team and Woodward is an addition for them, plus they are getting the best out of Tom Varndell, they looked to feed those two today and it nearly paid off."
Bristol head coach Mark Tainton:
"It is a massive point. It is down to us, we can't rely on other people and we will just try to improve each week and concentrate on what we are doing.
"The team have got belief now and with that comes confidence. When you have got confidence you can achieve anything and we nearly achieved something special this evening. We have got the point, we are disappointed we didn't get more, but we will take that with where we are.
"We played some really good attacking football and our defence was solid. We were probably second best in the breakdown at a number of occasions, and it allowed Northampton to pinch ball and get them field position again. If you allow Northampton field position they will eventually score points, but I am proud of the performance.
"The boys played exactly how we asked them to play it, and that was to attack that wide channel and get on the outside of them. Late in the game we scored a superb try by Jason Woodward by going wide in our 22, and then we maybe got a little bit loose rather than playing field position, but I am never going to say to the guys 'stop playing rugby'."
Northampton: Foden; Elliott, Burrell, Hanrahan, North; Myler, Groom; Waller, Haywood, Brookes, Lawes, Day, Wood (capt), Harrison, Picamoles.
Replacements: Clare, Waller, Hill, Craig, Gibson, Dickson, Mallinder, Estelles.
Bristol: Woodward; Wallace, Palamo, Hurrell, Varndell; Jarvis, Cliff; Traynor, Hawkins, Ford-Robinson, Tuohy, Glynn, Fenton-Wells, Robinson (capt), Eadie.
Replacements: Crumpton, Bevington, Cortes, Sorenson, Lam, Williams, Searle, Arscott.
For the latest rugby union news follow @bbcrugbyunion on Twitter.