Northampton Saints produced a gutsy performance at Sixways to hold off Worcester Warriors and claim a much-needed away victory in the Gallagher Premiership.
Saints led 13-3 at the break as Mikey Haywood’s score at the back of a lineout drive was sandwiched by two James Grayson penalties.
And while Ollie Lawrence’s second-half try for the hosts set up a tense finale, another Grayson penalty – coupled with resolute defence from the men in Black, Green and Gold – saw them hold out to win on the road.
The game started brightly with both sides showing plenty of ambition and moving the ball across the pitch at a frenetic pace, and when Cobus Reinach pounced on a loose ball in the eighth minute the scrum-half looked set to score.
But he could not claim his own kick through as he was cynically blocked off by Ryan Mills, who was shown a yellow by referee Andrew Jackson for the offence, and Grayson slotted his first penalty of the evening for the game’s opening points.
The home side next made some headway after Naiyaravoro was penalised for tackling in the air, and after Nick David’s break Tom Collins was unfortunate to be sent to the sin-bin for what was deemed a deliberate knock-on five metres from his own line.
And while Saints forced the lineout drive into touch and were able to clear their lines, Warriors won another penalty for offside moments later and Jono Lance levelled the scores at 3-3.
Northampton worked their way up to the five-metre line through a series of destructive carries, but were then pinged for holding on and the chance went begging.
Worcester – now with an extra man after Mills’ return – scythed through on 24 minutes with a flowing move down the left-hand side, but Reinach denied Ethan Waller a certain try with a brilliant covering tackle to dislodge the ball, before Collins returned to the field to make it 15-a-side again.
Saints turned over a lineout on the Worcester 22, winning a penalty and sending it straight into the corner – and with the advantage again, Grayson received a ball out the back from the exceptional Andy Symons and was stopped inches short of the line.
But the following penalty was sent into the corner again and this time Northampton’s driving maul was flawless; sending Mikey Haywood across the whitewash in the left corner.
Grayson’s conversion was good and a few minutes later, when Nick Schonert tackled a man off the ball, the fly-half confidently stepped up again to stretch Saints’ lead to 13-3 at the interval from all of 43 metres.
Taqele Naiyaravoro was clearly struggling with a knee injury and was replaced at the break by Fraser Dingwall, who soon settled into the game nicely on the wing.
Some breathless defence on their own line from Northampton saw them hold up the ball on 46 minutes as Schonert attempted to touch down, and the pack followed that up with a scrum penalty to turn over possession.
Just before the hour mark, Haywood burst through a gap and found Reinach, but just as the Springbok looked to gallop through and score, in came Ted Hill to haul him down – and as the offload went astray the chance was gone.
Chris Boyd started to empty Saints’ bench with Owen Franks and Henry Taylor entering the action, but after Lance found Chris Pennell there was loads of room for Worcester, and the hard-carrying Lawrence charged over the line.
Lance’s conversion was good to bring the sides within three points and set up a tense finish with 13 minutes remaining.
A high tackle on Ludlam however allowed Grayson a tricky shot at goal with just nine minutes left on the clock, but while he had the distance the ball missed just left of the uprights.
Saints’ fly-half made amends moments later however after a no-arms tackle, clipping the penalty over and giving his side the buffer they needed to see out the final moments of a tense match.