Saints held out their guests Connacht in a tight game at Franklin's Gardens to seal a spot in next Friday's European Champions Cup play-off final and a chance to secure top-flight rugby for next season.
A frenzied start began the European Champions Cup play-off semi-final. With a score each on the board before the clock had hit double digits both sides were showing some flair.
Saints were first on the scoreboard with an incredible try of the season contender. Nafi Tuitavake slinked through the Connacht defence and raced up the left before the ball came wide to Ben Foden in a brilliant show from the backs.
The winger danced up the right with Ahsee Tuala before the full back sent an incredible offload inside to Harry Mallinder for the score.
It was not long after the fly-half converted his own score, however, that Connacht got themselves on the scoreboard with a fast-footed score of their own.
Niyi Adeolokun barged his way through the Saints’ midfield and carried several Saints defenders the final yards for the score. Craig Ronaldson added the extras to level things after just four minutes.
More back and forth rugby ensued but Mallinder knocked two penalties through the uprights to put Saints firmly back ahead before Ronaldson brought the deficit back to three with a place kick of his own.
A string of penalties in the Connacht 22 for Saints looked promising but Connacht managed to claw back possession and clear the danger and the game entered half time without another score.
The teams came back out unchanged for the second forty and though joined by a new referee, Mathieu Reynal leaving the game injured and Pascal Gauzere taking over, much the same game ensued.
A beautiful move nearly came off for Saints on the 50 minute mark. Nic Groom set George North free on the left, the winger running half the length of the pitch, before it came right for Tuala. Another offload from the fullback nearly saw Foden away but the winger was just pushed into touch.
Tuitavake and Lawes teamed up on halfway just after to get Saints back in contention and Saints soon found themselves with a scrum inside Connacht’s 22. Tuala scuttled forwards off the back to get within two metres of the try line and popped up for Nic Groom, the scrum half darting over for Saints’ second.
A driving maul got Connacht back into the game and closed the gap to just three as David Heffernan rode the maul over the line and it was suddenly all the play for again.
An interception from Mallinder saw Saints back in attack and a well-judged kick from Rory Hutchinson gave them territory.
Saints get close again through Foden and Picamoles but the ball got lost forwards in contact. The home side quickly earned a penalty though and Mallinder opted for the posts to stretch Saints lead to six with ten to play.
Connacht pushed Saints back to their own 22 and worked hard to try to make their way through. Saints defended hard and eventually it was Courtney Lawes putting in a huge hit on his opposite man and forcing the knock on that ended the tight play-off semi-final, seeing Saints through to play Stade Francais next Friday for the chance to play in the European Champions Cup next year.
SAINTS Tuala; Foden, Tuitavake, Burrell, North, Mallinder, Groom; Waller, Hartley, Brookes, Lawes, Day, Gibson, Harssion, Picamoles
Subs – Haywood, Ma’afu, Denman, Ratuniyarawa, Wood, Dickson, Olver, Hutchinson
CONNACHT O’Halloran; Adeolokun, Poolman, Ronaldson, Kelleher, Carty, Marimion; Buckley, Heffernan, Bealman, Roux, Cannon, O’Brien, Heenan, Muldoon
Subs – Delahunt, JP Cooney, Carey, Dillane, Dawai, Blade, J Cooney, Healy
1 mins SAINTS Try Mallinder Con Mallinder 7-0
4 mins CONNACHT Try Adeolokun Con Ronaldson 7-7
15 mins SAINTS Pen Mallinder 10-7
23 mins SAINTS Pen Mallinder 13-7
28 mins CONNACHT Pen Ronaldson 13-10
HALF TIME Saints 13 Connacht 10
58 mins SAINTS Try Groom 18-10
61 mins CONNACHT Try Heffernan 18-15
70 mins SAINTS Pen Mallinder 21-15
FULL TIME Saints 21 Connacht 15