Bristol suffered their first Gallagher Premiership home defeat of the season as Northampton claimed a 45-40 bonus point victory at Ashton Gate.
The teams served up an 11-try spectacular in the west country sunshine to maintain this season’s trend of high-scoring encounters.
And Saints, without an away league success since April, had enough in the tank to deny a Bristol side that had already claimed wins on home soil against Bath and Harlequins.
Northampton often made hard work of it, but they got over the line after tries from Ehren Painter, Andrew Kellaway, Lewis Ludlam, Taqele Naiyaravoro, Alex Waller and Mike Haywood, while fly-half Dan Biggar kicked five conversions and a penalty and Harry Mallinder also landed a conversion.
Bristol only led once in the game, yet they refused to go quietly, with centre Will Hurrell (two), hooker Harry Thacker and wings Luke Morahan and Alapati Leiua all claiming touchdowns and fly-half Callum Sheedy booting 15 points.
But ultimately it was not enough, and they were left to reflect on a first Ashton Gate reversal since Championship opponents Jersey beat them almost seven months ago.
Biggar kicked Saints into a fifth-minute lead, but Bristol responded decisively just two minutes later when Hurrell carved up Northampton’s defence to claim a fine solo try that Sheedy converted.
There was no respite in the early action, and Saints thought they had gone back in front after Biggar’s delivery to Burrell sent the England international clear and over Bristol’s line, but television replays revealed a forward pass to Biggar in the build-up and referee Luke Pearce rightly disallowed the score.
It was only a temporary let-off for Bristol, though, and after Biggar sacrificed a kickable penalty by kicking to touch, Northampton’s forwards – led by Dylan Hartley and Waller – seized the initiative and Painter rounded off some powerful close-range work.
Biggar’s conversion put the visitors three points ahead, and Saints were in the mood for more, extending their lead with a second touchdown when Biggar and wing Tom Collins linked well and Kellaway – on the pitch as a replacement while Piers Francis underwent a head injury assessment – finished off easily.
Biggar effortlessly kicked the touchline conversion, and although Sheedy cut the arrears with a penalty, Saints continued to dominate as they gained a temporary one-man advantage after Bristol number eight Jack Lam was sin-binned for a technical offence.
But Bristol had already shown that they only needed half a chance to punish Northampton, and so it proved again as prop John Afoa broke clear from a maul into open play and sent Thacker sprinting clear for a try that Sheedy converted, making it 17-17.
Then Saints scored from their next attack through a sharp finish by Ludlam, before a Sheedy penalty made it 24-20 at half-time.
Saints claimed a bonus point touchdown within five minutes of the restart when weak tackling allowed Naiyaravoro a passage to the line, with Biggar’s conversion taking them clear on the scoreboard.
In keeping with the game’s nature, though, Bristol hit back immediately as Morahan pounced for his team’s third try following a well-placed Sheedy kick that full-back Piers O’Connor caught before he off-loaded a scoring pass.
But two tries in four minutes either side of the hour mark from Waller and Hartley’s replacement Haywood finally made Saints safe and left Bristol reflecting on what might have been, despite Hurrell collecting his second touchdown and Leiua crossing in the dying seconds to give the home side two bonus points.