It was a frustrating day for the Saints in the mid-September warmth, as despite dominating possession and impressing repeatedly in attack they could only come away with a losing bonus point against high-flying Wasps.
As the afternoon wore on it would become increasingly apparent that this was not going to be Saints' day, as wave after wave of attack came undone by an error at a crucial moment or desperate defending from the visitors.
But this frustration would look a long way off in the opening 90 seconds as Saints got on the board in searing style. Ken Pisi, who had led the side out for his 100th appearance, and Kieran Brookes set up a cracking opening attack, with George North getting on the end of the impressive backs play to score in the corner and bring the Gardens to its feet.
Saints were to keep the pressure on their guests in the coming minutes. A whole team effort, beginning in the forwards and stretching right through the backline, got the home side within 10 metres. Penalties were kicked to the corner and forwards and backs interchanged at will with ball in hand.
But the second score was not to come in the first 40 and instead Danny Cipriani’s good vision saw Wasps go end-to-end for their first points. With Ben Foden sitting back to cover a clearance kick Cipriani drifted into a 15-metre overlap at a scrum just a few metres from his own line. Christian Wade lurked to make a two-on-one against North, and when the pair combined to run the ball out Cipriani spotted some space behind the defence and a clever chip through sat nicely for Man of the Match Jimmy Gopperth to collect and eventually dot down between the posts.
Saints responded and thought they had scored just minutes later as a solo run in to the line from centurion Pisi got the ball over the whitewash again. Referee Luke Pearce called the game back, however, after speaking to the TMO and gave Wasps a penalty for obstruction by Alex Waller in the build-up.
Despite Saints’ best efforts they could not get over the tryline again this half, even with Louis Picamoles charging his way closer and closer to the line with every phase and the game went into half time with the guests ahead by five points, Gopperth having added a penalty to his personal tally.
Gopperth sent a second penalty through the posts after the break to put Wasps two scores ahead, a margin which would prove crucial as the half wore on.
The third quarter had seen Saints go off the boil somewhat, but they found their spark in the final 20 minutes, powering their way forward to dominate both possession and territory again.
But handling errors cost them dearly and the margin was not closed until Tom Kessell darted over from close range following a series of five-metre lineouts and driving mauls.
Stephen Myler added the extras, and with four minutes to play Saints started to go through the gears in search of what would have been a winning score.
And then, as if to sum up the afternoon, the ball hit the deck again, Elliot Daly sent a kick ahead and Josh Bassett outpaced the defence to score by the posts. It was a simple conversion for Gopperth and it took the wind completely out of the Gardens, even though there was still time for Myler to salvage the single bonus point with a last-minute penalty.
SAINTS Foden; K Pisi, G Pisi, Mallinder, North, Myler, Groom; Waller Haywood, Brookes, Lawes, Dickinson, Wood (capt), Gibson, Picamoles
Subs – Clare, Ma’afu, Hill, Paterson, Harrison, Kessell, Hutchinson, Tuala
WASPS Miller; Wade, Daly, Gopperth, Bassett, Cipriani, Simpson; Mullan, Taylor, Copper-Wooley, Symons, Gaskell (capt), Jones, Thompson, Hughes
Subs – Johnson, McIntntyre, Moore, Myall, Young, Robson, Eastmond, De Luca
2mins SAINTS Try North 5-0
19mins WASPS Try Gopperth Con Gopperth 5-7
31mins WASPS Pen Gopperth 5-10
HALF-TIME SAINTS 5 WASPS 10
53mins WASPS Pen Gopperth 5-13
56mins WASPS Miss Pen Gopperth 5-13
75mins SAINTS Try Kessell Con Myler 12-13
77mins WASPS Try Bassett Con Gopperth 12-20
79mins SAINTS Pen Myler 15-20
FULL-TIME SAINTS 15 WASPS 20