|Bristol (27) 62|
|Tries: Randall 2, Thacker, Lloyd 2, Vui, Kloska, Harding, Heenan Cons: MacGinty 4, Williams 3 Pen: MacGinty|
|Northampton (3) 8|
|Try: Hendy Pen: Smith|
Nine-try Bristol claimed their biggest Premiership win, by 54 points, as Northampton Saints crumbled to their record top-flight defeat.
Fin Smith’s penalty put Saints ahead, but Bears hit back with 27 unanswered first-half points as Harry Randall (2), Harry Thacker and Ioan Lloyd crossed.
Lloyd and Chris Vui tries took the lead to 41-3 before George Hendy replied.
But George Kloska, Fitz Harding and Jake Heenan all scored to give Bristol their third straight league win.
Play-off chasing Bears are now unbeaten in seven matches at Ashton Gate and leapfrog Harlequins into eighth, three points below Gloucester in fourth. Saints stay third as their three-match league winning run came to an abrupt end.
A long injury list, exacerbated by international call-ups, forced Phil Dowson into seven changes, but the Saints still dominated the opening quarter.
Bristol’s defence repelled the threat and limited Saints to Smith’s early penalty, which was quickly cancelled out by an AJ MacGinty penalty.
Northampton have conceded 514 points in the Premiership this season, the most by some distance, and the contrast was clear at the other end as the Bears cut through with concerning ease.
Randall sniped through a gap to cross as Bristol converted from their first visit to the Northampton 22, and Ratu Naugolo then raced over straight from the restart, but saw the score chalked off for Thacker’s forward pass.
Moments later, Thacker stretched over from close range for his seventh try of the campaign, and it was then three tries from three chances when Charles Piutau’s superb run from halfway and grubber kick sent Randall away to finish a scintillating break.
After such a promising start, a miserable first-half collapse was capped when more good work from Piutau created a gap for Lloyd to stroll in for the bonus-point score.
No-one has scored more second-half tries than Northampton this season with 42, but Bristol set the tone soon after the break when slick offloads and Piutau’s back-of the-hand pass sent Lloyd to the corner.
More silky skills saw Vui break from a ruck to sprint clear for the sixth try before George Hendy went over for Saints in purely consolation fashion after a Tom Collins break.
Order was soon restored when Kloska crashed over from close range and the relentless Bears passed the half-century when Harding finished off a James Williams break.
And Heenan completed a remarkable night, going over after a quick tap and go.
Bristol Bears head coach Pat Lam told BBC Radio Bristol:
“I’m very proud of the boys. For them it’s satisfying because of the work we’ve been doing to prepare for this week.
“We saw the conditions, we knew what was coming and we knew we had to be on our game.
“All in all it was a very, very good performance, but at the end of the day it’s five points on the table and we’ve got to go again. We’re still not where we want to be and Quins are next.
“I said to the boys, if we’re the best version of ourselves as individuals then we’re going to be the best version of the Bears, and if we’re the best version of the Bears then no-one will live with us so that’s where we’re working to get to.”
Northampton Saints director of rugby Phil Dowson told BBC Radio Northampton:
“That’s not acceptable. I’ve just been told it’s our record defeat in the Premiership so something’s not quite working in that space and we need to make sure we rectify that very, very quickly.
“It’s not a record that any of these players want to have their fingerprints on and unfortunately they do, they’re going to have to deal with that, I’m going to have to deal with that as a DOR and come to terms with that and we simply have to be better.
“We started well then dropped off then fell behind and then stopped.
“We’ve seen throughout the season our capability and I think we’ve also shown the chinks in our armour as well and they were exposed cruelly today.”
Bristol: Piutau, Naulago, Radradra, Williams, Ibitoye, MacGinty, Randall (c); Thomas, Thacker, Lahiff, Vui, Batley, Jeffries, Harding, Bradbury.
Replacements: Byrne, Woolmore, Kloska, Luatua, Heenan, Uren, Bedlow, Lloyd.
Northampton: Hendy, Skosan, Dingwall (c), Hutchinson, Collins, Smith, Braley; Waller, Matavesi, Petch, Salakaia-Loto, Moon, Coles, Scott-Young, Graham.
Replacements: Cruse, Waller, Hill, Wilkins, Hinkley, Garside, Grayson, Litchfield.
Sin-bin: Hinkley (74)
Referee: Ian Tempest.