Northampton underlined their Aviva Premiership title credentials by routing Bath 31-10 at Franklin's Gardens on Friday night.
The build-up to the game promised a showdown between the Premiership's only unbeaten sides, but there was a gulf in class throughout in front of another capacity crowd in Northampton. A second-half surge from the Saints left Bath battered in the scrums and chasing shadows out wide, the visitors shipping four tries before the night was out. It was England wing Chris Ashton who stole the headlines with a brace but his pack deservedly gained the lions' share of the plaudits.
Flanker Phil Dowson scored the only try of the first half to get the home side rolling, with replacement Joe Ansbro pouncing for the vital bonus-point try as they strangled the life out of the game. Replacement Ben Williams scored a consolation try late on to save some face for Bath, but the result was long gone.
Both sides made bright starts, with wingers Matt Carraro and Ashton trading breaks along their flanks. Bath centre Olly Barkley missed his first shot at goal after a rash penalty was conceded by the otherwise superb Courtney Lawes but Shane Geraghty made no such mistake with his first opportunity to open up a 3-0 lead after 19 minutes.
A second well-struck penalty from the Saints playmaker doubled their advantage and the opening try of the game followed soon after. The score went to Dowson, who powered over from close range, but it was crafted by his skipper Dylan Hartley. The England hooker's double burst from depth put the Saints on the front foot and left the Bath defence reeling.
Bath's response was inspired by grit and determination but failed to yield points as a series of opportunities were passed up. Barkley again failed to find the target from the kicking tee and his miss was compounded when a slip from wing Tom Biggs resulted in a cast-iron try going begging in the corner.
The visitors put aside their disappointment and scrapped on, but another opportunity was thwarted when aggressive Saints defence forced a forward pass from Shontayne Hape in sight of the try-line. To add insult to injury the Northampton pack then tore through the Bath eight to win a pressure-relieving penalty.
Barkley slotted three points with the final kick of the first-half but the tables were turned upon the resumption when Ashton delivered a painful lesson in the art of finishing. Dowson's burst on halfway splintered the Bath line and Ashton arrived from nowhere on his outside to race clear and score his second in as many games.
Geraghty sloppily missed the conversion but Saints redoubled their efforts with ball in hand, tight-head Brian Mujati leading the way with a bustling carry before Ashton combined with fullback Ben Foden to carve a half chance. Their reward was another penalty to Geraghty, taking the score to 19-3 after 46 minutes.
Bath's lot worsened when tight-head David Wilson was shown a harsh yellow for some lazy running close to his own try-line and Ashton's second try followed quickly. The Saints' scrum had looked set to win a penalty try before Lee Dickson opted to spin the ball wide, where quick hands from Lawes and Man of the Match Christian Day gave Ashton acres of space in which to step inside Hape and score. Geraghty, selected ahead of Stephen Myler due to his kicking form, again failed with the conversion to leave the score at 24-3.
Saints emptied their bench as the clock wound down but their pursuit of the bonus-point try was maintained at a break-neck pace. Dickson continued to impress with his orchestration of the home side's attack and after Soane Tonga'uiha had made massive inroads along the shortside, a precision pass into midfield exploited a simple overlap, with Foden delivering the scoring pass to Ansbro. Myler landed the conversion much to the crowd's, and doubtless his, delight.
Bath secured the final say when replacement Williams finished off a well-worked try, rewarding some invention as their backs flooded the blindside. Sam Vesty slotted the conversion to complete the scoring but there was a hollow ring to the cheers from the home crowd, who saved their best for the final whistle.