Northampton Wanderers went down narrowly to London Irish after a brilliantly entertaining topsy-turvy friendly at Franklin’s Gardens.
Both sides came close to snatching the win in a frenetic nine-try encounter, but ultimately the Exiles were the victors as a late score by scrum-half Rory Brand sealed the result.
Tom Wood and Reece Marshall made their returns from injury for Northampton, while the hosts also saw Matt Worley, Marshall, Fraser Strachan and Ollie Sleightholme all cross the whitewash.
It took less than a minute for the Wanderers to take the lead, as Worley collected a loose ball from James Grayson’s kick and left the Irish team for dust with a 60-metre dash down the wing.
Despite being rocked early on, Irish held their own and mustered a score of their own following numerous phases in the Wanderers’ 22 to wear the home side down, allowing Ben Atkins to dive over the line and reduce his side’s deficit to just two points.
Irish continued that pressure forward and handling cost the Wandies with Ciaran Hearn crossing in the corner for the visitors, who had burst forward to go ahead at 7-10.
The Wandies found their composure and Grayson’s attempted drop-goal from 40 metres sailed just wide of the posts, but the momentum was starting to tun.
Some well-worked phases from a lineout got the Wanderers across the whitewash, only for the ball to have been lost forward over the line, ruling out the try.
However Marshall crossed in the corner from a maul which overwhelmed the Irish pack to restore the Wanderers’ lead, with Grayson slotting a second successful conversion on the approach to half-time.
The second half started in physical fashion, with both sides trying to break through for an opening score, but both Wanderers and Irish were struggling to finish off their chances.
That was until Napolioni Nalaga’s combination with Theo Brophy Clews regained Irish the lead, with the winger dotting down under the posts to take the visitors three points clear with half an hour to play.
Wanderers retaliated again though as Fraser Strachan burst from the cluster of players to pick up a third try of the night for his side, Grayson adding the extras once again.
Less than a minute later, the Wandies were back over the line as Tom Emery and try-scorer Ollie Sleightholme flew down the left flank at high speed, leaving Exile scrum-half Brand for dust in spectacular fashion.
Nalaga crossed for the second time on the hour mark however, reducing the deficit to two for Irish, but the Wandies worked straight back into Irish territory and pressed for a match-winning score.
The Exiles came close to regaining the lead for a third time but dropped the ball on the line, as Wandies hung on following a stern testing by the Irish attackers in the final ten minutes of the game.
Their pressure paid off though as Brand crossed from a rolling maul to go 26-29 up with five minutes left, and Wandies could not convert a late lineout opportunity to wrestle the victory away from the Exiles.