After a five-months hiatus for rugby caused by COVID-19, Northampton Saints returned to an empty Franklin’s Gardens with a narrow defeat to rivals Wasps.
The loss puts a dent in the Club’s play-off ambitions with Chris Boyd’s side sliding down to sixth in the Gallagher Premiership table, but the men in Black, Green and Gold will look to bounce back against London Irish next Saturday.
Wasps arrived with a powerful starting XV populated with high-quality back line, and took an early lead with tries from wing Josh Bassett and flanker Jack Willis. Two Dan Biggar penalties kept Saints in contention at the break, and a short-range score from scrum-half Alex Mitchell shortly after the restart kept the home side in touching distance.
But second-half tries from Wasps’ prop Ben Harris and another from Bassett allowed Wasps to extend their lead and sealed a 21-34 win.
The first game back at the Gardens saw both sides pay tribute to the NHS with a minute’s silence, and also show their support to the Premiership’s ‘Rugby Against Racism’ initiative – with Saints wearing t-shirts adorned with the message and standing in a circle formation.
Two Wasps tries inside the first 20 minutes saw the away side take an early lead, but a brace of penalties from Biggar kept Saints in the hunt and the scoreboard ticking.
A yellow card to Malakai Fekitoa, after he was adjudged to have tackled Fraser Dingwall dangerously, allowed Saints a one-man advantage, but the home side were unable to capitalise.
On the half-hour mark, Wasps looked to have extended their lead when Jacob Umaga touched down, but the offload he had collected from teammate Brad Shields was forward. From here, things remained tight, but Wasps would have been much the happier side going into the break at 6-14 ahead.
Alex Mitchell sniped over cleverly from close range to bring Northampton back within a point, but Saints resurgence was short lived as Wasps scored straight after the restart through Harris, before replacement Lima Sopoaga added a penalty.
Not long after the All Black was again in thick of the action; this time illegally knocking down a George Furbank’s pass as Saints’ attack really began to click – Sopoaga saw yellow from referee Karl Dickson in the aftermath, Wasps’ second of the match.
From here the hosts began to fight their way back into the game and when lock David Ribbans touched down from short-range after an excellently worked driving maul, Saints put themselves back within touching distance.
Another Biggar penalty moved the home side within three points. But while Northampton fancied a turnaround, as the rain began to fall at Franklin’s Gardens, bereft of its raucous crowd, it was Wasps who came out of the final ten minutes on top.
A series of scrum resets ran down the clock until finally Dickson awarded a penalty right in front of the posts, which Sopoaga – returned from the sin bin – duly struck over, before a searing break from Lee Blackett’s side saw Bassett over for his second try of the afternoon.