Alex Mitchell’s late try seals Gallagher Premiership title for Northampton

Northampton have been the Premiership’s standout team this season but were pushed all the way by 14-man Bath.

Alex Mitchell scores the decisive try during the Gallagher Premiership final at Twickenham
Alex Mitchell scores the decisive try during the Gallagher Premiership final at Twickenham (Mike Egerton/PA)

Northampton were crowned Gallagher Premiership champions at Twickenham after a late try by Alex Mitchell secured a 25-21 victory that ended Bath’s defiant response to Beno Obano’s red card.

Obano was sent-off with almost an hour of the final left to play for a high tackle on Juarno Augustus that referee Christophe Ridley said presented a high level of danger with no mitigation.

Bath sacrificed Alfie Barbeary to bring on replacement prop Juan Schoeman, stripping them of a second key ball carrier and in theory the ability to play anything more ambitious than a spoiling game, yet they rallied courageously.

Tries by Tommy Freeman and Ollie Sleightholme inflicted some initial wounds, but they recovered to hit back through touch downs from Thomas du Toit and Will Muir and the boot of Finn Russell to lead 21-18 with 13 minutes left.

Northampton have been the Premiership’s standout team this season, operating with multiple strings to their bow but primarily a cutting edge in attack, yet they went into their shells as Bath took control.

It took the tackle-busting ability of 21-year-old replacement wing George Hendy and support work of Mitchell to eventually break their opponents, who saw Sam Underhill lead a remarkable defensive effort.

Hendy was named man of the match as Northampton said a triumphant farewell to Courtney Lawes, Alex Waller, Lewis Ludlam and Alex Moon, but Bath’s side was also full of worthy performances including half-backs Ben Spencer and Russell.

Russell’s first significant act was to send an ugly penalty kick wide of the left upright, drawing a frown from the Scotland playmaker, but he was more successful with his second attempt.

Referee Christophe Ridley shows Bath’s Beno Obano (not pictured) a red card
Referee Christophe Ridley shows Bath’s Beno Obano (not pictured) a red card (Mike Egerton/PA)

George Furbank was clattered in contact as a nervy set-piece battle gave way to tentative outbreaks of attack, but Northampton were unable to find any space in the the well drilled Bath defence.

As the second quarter approached Saints patiently advanced deep into opposition territory, allowing Fin Smith to land a drop-goal, before the match tilted against Bath with Obano’s exit.

The impact was almost instant as Northampton plundered their first try, Lawes threading a pass out of contact to Furbank and the England full-back worked his magic, gliding into space and sending Freeman over.

Furbank provided the assist for Sleightholme to score in the left corner, but Bath hit back when du Toit squeezed over from short range in a major victory for their pack.

A Russell penalty early in the second-half reduced the deficit to two points and Northampton then knocked on as they looked to capitalise on a precious position close the whitewash.

Russell and Underhill double tackled Burger Odendaal, forcing the South African to limp off, and having absorbed a Smith penalty Bath struck next when Muir touched down Spencer’s crossfield kick.

Even Furbank produced a handling error as Saints’ foundations began to shake, a pinpoint 50-22 from Russell adding to the pressure.

Russell sent over his third penalty and Bath’s resilience then shone through as they soaked up waves of Northampton attacks before winning a scrum penalty close to their own 22.

Saints lost Smith to injury in another hammer blow, but his half-back partner Mitchell came to the rescue as Hendy used his strength to bust through multiple tackles before finding England’s scrum-half in support for the decisive score.