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Saints 16 – 20 London Irish: Exiles strike late to down Boyd’s men

Northampton Saints were defeated on home soil for the first time this season in the Gallagher Premiership as a last-minute Dave Porecki try snatched a win for London Irish.

Cobus Reinach’s try and eight points from the boot of James Grayson put the hosts 13-8 to the good at the end of an attritional first half, but the men in Black, Green and Gold were dealt a huge blow shortly after the break as Api Ratuniyarawa saw red for a dangerous clear out.

And despite Grayson extending the lead with another penalty after immense Saints pressure, the extra man eventually told as the Exiles notched two scores in the final seven minutes through Franco van der Merwe and then Porecki.

Naiyaravoro set the tone for Saints in the first minute, sending Blair Cowan flying with a huge carry down the right, but Ben Meehan also put some pressure on the hosts by sending a couple of testing box kicks over the top.

That became a theme for the first ten minutes, with lots of kicks on both sides sent up into the dark Northampton skyline in a very physical content – with both Franks brothers, Ben and Owen, making their presence felt with some colossal hits in midfield.

Irish finally broke the deadlock in the 18th minute with Ollie Hassell-Collins finishing well out wide from a looping Terrence Hepetema pass.

Stephen Myler’s conversion attempt struck the post, but Saints responded straight away with a couple of big carries from Naiyaravoro and Teimana Harrison, before Ratuniyarawa was tackled off the ball and James Grayson knocked over three points from the tee.

The visitors won the restart and looked threatening again, but more desperate defence from Northampton’s tight five forced a knock on from Cowan right on the tryline.

The Exiles landed three more points with a Myler penalty soon after a key moment in the contest; Meehan dump-tackled Reinach off the ball with referee Tom Foley ruling it only a yellow-card offence, and sending the scrum half to the sin bin for ten minutes.

Saints made the extra man count as Reinach sniped over in the corner following a couple of quickfire Saints penalties, with Grayson’s touchline conversion giving his side the lead for the first time.

And the fly-half added to his tally in the dying moments of the half as foul play from Irish right in front of their own posts allowed Grayson to make it 13-8 at the interval.

Northampton’s No.10 sent another penalty just wide in the 46th minute, but the hosts were down to 14 shortly after as Ratuniyarawa saw red for making contact with the face of an Irish forward at the breakdown.

That moment however seemed to ignite the atmosphere inside the Gardens, and Saints started to stretch their opponents despite being a man down, building 22 phases before a knock-on surrendered possession.

It was 14 against 14 with 18 minutes left as replacement scrum-half Nick Phipps was sin-binned for a deliberate slap-down, and Grayson knocked over a gutsy penalty to put Saints 16-8 ahead.

A moment of individual brilliance from Reinach denied Hassell-Collins a certain try, with a remarkable tackle from the Springbok forcing a knock-on, but the Exiles got the phases going shortly after and Van der Merwe cracked the line to score.

The atmosphere was tense inside the Gardens with only six minutes left on the clock following Myler’s successful conversion to bring the scores within a point, and after replacement scrum-half Henry Taylor’s box kick was charged down, Porecki gathered the loose ball to score.

Saints will next host Bristol back on home soil after a two-week break, with Northampton guaranteed to stay second in the Gallagher Premiership standings until then thanks to a losing bonus point.

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