Northampton Saints ran in nine tries to defeat the British Army in what was the long-awaited return of the Mobbs Memorial Match.
A crowd of 2,072 inside cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens witnessed the resumption of a 101-year-old fixture, following a Covid-enforced two-year hiatus, and a vibrant Saints performance.
As well as being an ideal chance to give youngsters such as Josh Gillespie, Callum Burns, Emeka Atuanya and Tom Lockett a run-out, there was the welcome sight of Taqele Naiyaravoro playing the full 80 minutes.
The big winger showed he is getting back up to speed after coming back from the serious injury that has sidelined him so far this season by scoring twice in the first half.
There were also braces for captain James Grayson, as part of a personal haul of 24 points, and replacement hooker James Fish.
It took Saints just 44 seconds to open the scoring as Tom Litchfield was found in acres of space on the left and he timed his pass to give Ahsee Tuala a comfortable run to the line, with Grayson converting.
The pre-match drizzle led to a few fumbles early doors, with Litchfield unfortunately losing the ball in the tackle close to the line after combining with Joel Matavesi.
A bit of ‘white line fever’ then gripped the forwards, who went for a succession of pick-and-goes deep in Army territory, resulting in tighthead Oisin Heffernan being help up in-goal.
But a second try did arrive when Grayson sent a cross-field kick into the bucket hands of Naiyaravoro, and the unfortunate defender in his path didn’t stand a chance as he powered clear to score.
There was then no stopping Naiyaravoro from making it a double after 22 minutes when he came off his wing to take Connor Tupai’s pass following a line-out and a 19-0 lead opened up.
Grayson then got in on the act with just over half an hour played when Tupai took the ball from a five-metre scrum before feeding his fly-half, who dummied before sneaking through down the left.
There was then a delay following a nasty landing for Army centre John Davetanivalu, who sadly was not able to take any further part, although thankfully he was able to walk off.
When play resumed, Grayson went over for his second off the final play of the half, an easy finish off Matavesi’s well-timed pass.
That took Saints’ lead to 31-0 at the break, but the Army got themselves off the mark within three minutes of the restart when blindside flanker Shane Nayalo crashed over after a strong one-out drive, with Matt Smart kicking the conversion.
It looked as though normal service would be resumed when Jake Garside was put in the clear by JJ Tonks, but visiting winger Connor O’Reilly got back to make a superb try-saving tackle.
Saints’ first try of the second half did come after 57 minutes when Fish was given an armchair ride from a driving maul that eased its way over.
Another pushover score for the hosts followed five minutes later, although this time it was trialist Aaron Hinkley who got the ball down to reward what had been a lively display from the back rower.
The half-century was then brought up by a lovely individual try by Garside, who dummied at a ruck before scampering into space and stepping the last defender on his route to the line.
Grayson was hungry for his hat-trick, although he maybe should have left the ball for Tonks to gather after the No.8 showed off his footballing skills, with the ball rebounding off the former’s heel as they both chased.
However, there was time for one last try when Fish grabbed his second off the last play as yet another driving maul proved an irresistible force for the hosts.