Saints reignited their Gallagher Premiership play-off ambitions with a resounding 27-3 bonus-point win over ninth-placed London Irish at Twickenham Stoop.
The four-try victory avenged the 16-20 defeat at Franklin’s Gardens in January, and moves Saints up to fifth in the Premiership table.
With the scores all square at 3-3 at half-time, Saints turned on the style in the second 40 with scores from Tom Collins and Ahsee Tuala – as well as two penalty tries – to secure their first win since the resumption to the league season.
After last weekend’s restart, both sides made wholesale changes to their starting XV’s, Saints’ boss Chris Boyd handing first starts to loan signing Nick Isiekwe and South African Shaun Adendorff.
After an error-strewn opening quarter where both sides showed plenty of ambition, but little accuracy, it was Saints who drew first blood through the boot of James Grayson. The young fly-half slotted a penalty to get the visitors off the mark, after the Exiles were deemed to have gone off their feet.
From there both teams tried to get a foothold in the game, but a combination of handling errors and poor discipline meant neither side were able to gain any ascendency.
With just three minutes of the first half remaining, Saints were adjudged offside and Exiles’ fly-half Paddy Jackson levelled the scores.
Saints were in charge for most of the half but could not finish off a string of chances, still showing a few signs of rust after a five-month hiatus.
But after the break Saints took total control, playing with a fluency and exactness that they had missed in the first 40 minutes.
The first of four second-half tries was scored by Collins, who enjoyed an excellent afternoon in the West London sunshine. After Saints had shifted the ball through several phases, sweeping up the field to just inside the Exiles 22, the wing gathered his own chip to take the score to 3-8.
Not long after Saints thought they had a second, but flanker Lewis Ludlam – captaining Northampton for just the second time – was bundled into touch as he tried to touch the ball down, with the try getting chalked off by the TMO.
The first of two penalty tries then followed as Matt Ferguson’s scrum got to work. Irish, in the face of unrelenting pressure at the lineout, saw Sekope Kepu yellow-carded for illegally preventing Mikey Haywood from going over, and Ian Tempest went under the posts to award the try.
Then, with Saints in the ascendancy at the scrum once again after the introduction of Ehren Painter, this time Will Goodrick-Clarke was sin-binned and referee Tempest awarded another penalty score.
By now there was no stopping Saints’ momentum and it was left to Ahsee Tuala to score the try of the day and round off a convincing afternoon’s work.
Collecting the ball just outside the home side’s 22, the Samoan flyer handed-off two defenders before acrobatically scoring in the corner. It was a sensational finish to an impressive performance from the visitors, with the likes of Ludlam, man-of-the-match Isiekwe and fellow debutant Shaun Adendorff impressing in Black, Green and Gold.
Next up for Chris Boyd’s side is a clash with top-four rivals Bath, who travel up to Franklin’s Gardens on Wednesday evening.