Northampton Saints ended their season and bade a fond farewell to several Saintsmen with a hard-earned victory over a resilient Worcester side.
It was an emotional afternoon at the Gardens, with the club saying farewell to 1,362 caps worth of players – including man of the match Ben Foden and Stephen Myler – but Northampton made it the perfect send off, with some fantastic tries to cap off the occasion.
The hosts had a difficult start, with an early yellow card for the departing Foden leaving the side a man down, and Worcester made them pay scoring twice in the next ten minutes.
Electric pace from Chris Pennell set up Will Butler for the first try of the game in a fine passage of play, before a clever Dorian Jones grubber through the back line allowed Butler to latch onto the kick, and down it just before the dead-ball line; Jones converted twice and Worcester stood 14-0 ahead.
But Saints responded with Foden making a good break and Mitch Eadie scored his side's opening try, edging over the line from the ruck by the posts, not only halving his sides’ deficit but turning the volume back up inside the Gardens.
Saints piled on the pressure in search of their second try as the clock ran down towards half-time, but a miscued lineout saw the chance to pull level slip away.
And despite several attempts to break through for a second score the Warriors were solid in defence, and Saints had to settle with a penalty kick, bringing the gap to just four points as the two teams headed back down the tunnel.
Worcester had the perfect start to the second half; Ben Te’o crossed the whitewash after replacement Tom Howe's superb kick down the left flank was latched onto by Josh Adams, who offloaded inside for the England centre to score.
However Nafi Tuitavake broke through the Warriors back-line just minutes later to score his sides’ second of the game behind the posts, and once again reduce the gap to just four points.
And Saints took the lead for the first time in the game soon after in a well-worked attacking move, with the ball worked out to Foden who produced a fine finish in the left corner to rapturous celebrations from the home fans.
Worcester were quick to retake a lead though with a penalty giving them a slim margin of just two points; both teams were very much in the clash with less than half an hour to go.
Tom Collins scored a fourth in what was an outstanding counter-attacking move, with Tuitavake collecting the kick, Foden offloading to Collins, and the winger leaving everyone for dust with superb pace to dot down in the left corner – a fine try to once again reclaim the lead which Saints would not relinquish.
Worcester eagerly pushed for another try but numerous efforts came to nothing as the Saints defence worked flawlessly to hold on to their lead.
In his final appearance for Northampton, Stephen Myler cooly slotted home Saints’ second penalty to seal the win two minutes from time, with his final kick for the club bringing an end to the 2017-18 season and a ninth-place finish.
SAINTS: Foden (capt); North, Tuitavake, Francis, Collins; Grayson, Reinach; Waller, Haywood, Brookes, Ratuniyarawa, Craig, Gibson, Harrison, Eadie
Replacements: Clare, Ma’afu, Hill, Ribbans, Ludlam, Mitchell, Myler, Tuala
WARRIORS: Pennell, Humphreys, Te’o, Butler, Adams; Jones, Hougaard; Bower, Singleton, Schonert, Bresler, Barry, Mama, Lewis, van Velse (capt)
Replacements: Taufete’e, Waller, Milasinovich, Kitchener, Denton, Arr, Shillcock, Howe
7’ WARRIORS Try Butler, Conversion Jones 0-7
11’ WARRIORS Try Butler, Conversion Jones 0-14
24’ SAINTS Try Eadie, Conversion Grayson 7-14
39’ SAINTS Penalty Grayson 10-14
HALF-TIME Saints 10-14 Warriors
42’ WARRIORS Try Te’o Conversion Jones 10-21
46’ SAINTS Try Tuitavake Conversion Grayson 17-21
50’ SAINTS Try Foden 22-21
54’ WARRIORS Penalty Jones 22-24
57’ SAINTS Try Collins Conversion Grayson 29-24
79’ SAINTS Penalty Myler 32-24
FULL-TIME Saints 32-24 Warriors