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Stuart Hooper relieved after Bath seal Champions Cup spot


Bath director of rugby Stuart Hooper was mightily relieved that his side recorded a last-gasp bonus-point try to beat fifth-placed Northampton 30-24 and secure a precious five points for a European Champions Cup place next season.

Finishing the Premiership in seventh place fell short of expectations at the Recreation Ground, however, and Hooper admitted that his side had made things difficult for themselves.

Secured victory with the clock at zero

They managed it in the most nerve-jangling fashion, hanging on to a one-point lead at the death until replacement flanker Josh Bayliss galloped 70 metres for the clinching try with the clock at zero.

Hooper said: “That game summed it up really. We had chances but didn’t take them. We fought our way back though and I never questioned the effort from the lads.

“Today is about the boys who are leaving the club, the five points that give us Champions (Cup) rugby next season – and saying goodbye to them in that manner.”

Reflecting on a disjointed season, he added: “There are still so many positives we can look to – the quality of players, the desire. That’s all there. We just need to make sure we can knit it all together and polish it a bit more.”

A key moment in the game was when British and Irish Lion Anthony Watson did not manage to finish off in the corner.

Hooper commented: “That sort of thing that will always happen in the course of a season.

“But we went a little soft after that, a bit passive, and let them back in the game for two tries. What we’ve got to do is bounce back, get on to the next job and crack on.

“The lads will have five weeks off now – it’s two weeks for the staff. We’ll review and deal with the last bits of on-field recruitment.”

Saints were already confirmed as fifth-place finishers in the Premiership.

Northampton forwards coach Phil Dowson said: “We gave ourselves opportunities throughout the season to qualify in the top four but we missed out in certain aspects.

“Today we gave ourselves an opportunity to win the game and we finished the first half brilliantly, but we couldn’t quite get that rhythm back in the second half.

“We hung in there, toughed it out a couple of times. It was frustrating really.

“The feeling throughout the whole season has been one of frustration but there are positives, such as in how the young lads are coming on. And there have been games in which we have performed really well.

“We’ve got an excellent Academy and we invest in that heavily in terms of time and effort.

“We’ve got some boys coming through, like Tom Litchfield in the centre, Ollie Newman and Josh Gillespie making their debuts. That gives them a massive confidence boost going into pre-season. Hopefully, they can kick on from here.

“We weren’t brilliant in the line-out today. We had the opportunity to try a few things and we were much better in the second half.

“It’s hard to win away. You just try to be within four points at the end – and we did that, but we didn’t quite execute in the last play.”

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