Northampton Saints kept their Gallagher Premiership play-off hopes alive with a hard-fought bonus-point win over Wasps at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens.
The men in Black, Green and Gold held a slender 12-10 advantage at the interval, with half-backs Alex Mitchell and James Grayson grabbing a try apiece to cancel out Jacob Umaga’s score and a Jimmy Gopperth penalty for Wasps.
But Saints pulled away in the second half thanks to tries from Alex Waller and Courtnall Skosan, and while Wasps came back in the closing stages, Northampton held on to send the 15,000-strong crowd into raptures.
The visitors opened the scoring with some patient play in the fifth minute, going through 16 phases before Dan Robson linked up with Tim Cardell to send Umaga over. Gopperth landed the simple conversion and then extended his side’s lead to ten points four minutes later, as Saints were penalised in front of their own posts.
But with 12 minutes on the clock, Northampton came alive with Juarno Augustus bursting through a gap before offloading off the floor to David Ribbans – on his 100th appearance for Saints – who carried up to the five-metre line.
As the hosts knocked on the door the ball was stripped, but Mitchell was alert enough to get to it first and touch down, although Grayson’s conversion attempt just drifted wide of the uprights.
The fly-half got back well a few minutes later to chase Gopperth’s grubber through, and earned a penalty for his efforts after a late shot from Josh Bassett, allowing Saints to clear their lines.
The TMO stepped in to rule out a Wasps try for a clear forward pass, and Saints then turned the screw on 26 minutes with Courtnall Skosan keeping the ball infield from a clearance kick, and passing to George Furbank who burst through a gap.
Alex Coles then found space on the right, and although the ball was held up a couple of phases later, Northampton had a penalty advantage – and from the resulting lineout, the ball was worked wide for Grayson on the overlap to coast over left of the posts.
The No.10’s conversion attempt was good this time to put his side ahead for the first time at 12-10, and the scorers were not troubled again before the break despite some late territory for Saints after Augustus and Teimana Harrison combined to win a breakdown penalty.
The hosts started the second half brightly and, after turning over a Wasps lineout on their own five-metre line, broke from deep through Rory Hutchinson and George Furbank – but Augustus was eventually hit into touch by Paolo Odogwu.
However Saints now had the momentum and soon Waller smashed over from short range after several relentless phases of attack to cap a milestone appearance for the loosehead, who broke the Premiership appearance record for a prop on his 231st league match.
Grayson made no mistake with the routine conversion to extend the lead to 19-10, but while Saints went in search of the crucial bonus-point try, they were denied twice by the TMO on 55 and then 68 minutes.
First Alex Waller was adjudged to have blocked Dan Robson off the ball after Sam Matavesi and Ribbans linked up well to set-up Mitchell to score, before Furbank dashed over in the right corner – but Matavesi was guilty of obstruction on a would-be tackler.
In-between those efforts, Wasps had closed the gap thanks to a superb dash from replacement scrum-half Will Porter to set up Odogwu in the corner, but while Gopperth could not land the conversion, another Grayson penalty on 69 minutes took the scoreline to 22-15.
But finally after 74 minutes, Northampton were rewarded for all their pressure with a bonus-point try, as a loose ball was pounced on by skipper Fraser Dingwall who then gave it to Skosan outside him for a simple run-in.
Hearts were in mouths again as the TMO investigated a potential knock-on in the tackle from Coles, but the score was eventually awarded to make it 27-15.
That appeared to be job done for Northampton, but the packed-out Gardens crowd were forced to endure a nervous final five minutes, as from the kick-off Wasps recovered the ball and Nizaam Carr stepped inside before Umaga put Porter through a gap to cross the whitewash under the posts.
However, Saints controlled the final moments of the match well, meaning that while two late penalty attempts from Grayson sailed wide of the mark, the clock had ticked into the red and the men in Black, Green and Gold celebrated a first win in five matches.