Northampton Saints saw off a second-half comeback from Wasps to secure a thrilling 17-22 Gallagher Premiership victory on Saturday afternoon.
In a first half dominated by ill-discipline, Saints ruthlessly took advantage of two Wasps yellow cards through scores from Shaun Adendorff, Sam Matavesi and Taqele Naiyaravoro.
Following the break, two Wasps tries plus yellow cards shown to Naiyaravoro and Piers Francis ensured a nailbiting ending, though good work in defence and at the set-piece was enough to secure back-to-back away victories at the Ricoh arena.
Saints opened the scoring in the 13th minute. Tim Cardall’s failure to roll away offered James Grayson an easy penalty just outside the 22.
After taking the lead, Saints were quickly forced into defensive duties. Three times Wasps tapped penalties inside the 22, and on all three occasions the attack ended with a carrier held up over the line. The pressure was eventually relieved by Alex Waller earning a crucial scrum penalty.
Freeeman popped up with another vital intervention moments later, one that led to the game’s first try. Sensing that he was being grappled into touch near the Wasps line, his decision to place the ball in field allowed Adendorff to gather and dive over from close range.
Life got more difficult for Wasps when they were shown two yellow cards in the space of a few minutes. First, former-Saint Kieran Brookes was sent to the bin for a dangerous clear out on Matavesi. And 14 became 13 moments later; James Gaskell hit Lewis Ludlam late while making no attempt to wrap, an intervention that earned him a seat next to his teammate on the sideline.
The numerical advantage told immediately. From the lineout off the Gaskell penalty, Saints overpowered the understaffed Wasps pack. A rolling maul that began just outside the 22 rumbled all the way over Wasps’ line with Matavesi at the back. Grayson’s conversion made the score 0-15.
Saints piled on the misery with a second try of the sin-bin period. Another maul with Matavesi at the back went close, but when the hooker was held short 5m out, his offload to Naiyaravoro offered the Fijian wing an easy path to the line. Grayson curled over a beautiful conversion from out wide to stretch the gap to 22 points.
The half ended with Wasps camped out on the Saints line with their full complement restored. Not for the first time in the opening period, Saints managed to hold up the carrier over the line. 0-22 at the break.
The first-half script of an early score followed by yellow cards was completely flipped following the break. In the half’s opening minutes, Wasps secured their first points through a score from Rob Miller.
After being sent into the 22 by a flat pass from Atkinson, Miller fed Matteo Minozzi before taking an offload from the Italian to power his way over. Jimmy Gopperth added the extras to make it 7-22.
Not long after, it was Northampton’s turn to fall foul of the officials when Naiyaravoro saw the game’s third yellow card – while the wing was penalized for a high tackle, he was ultimately punished for persistent infringements from the visitors.
Saints came out of the sin-bin period unscathed, thanks largely to their ability to hold onto the ball, but a Jacob Umaga penalty reduced the deficit to 12 heading into the last quarter.
Francis’ yellow card for killing the ball close to his own line offered the hosts a lifeline heading into the last ten minutes. From the penalty, Wasps barged their way over through Tommy Taylor, and Umaga’s conversion made it a five-point game.
Saints held on though through a combination of dogged breakdown work and set-piece dominance. Paul Hill – on for a longer shift than expected after an injury to Owen Franks – was instrumental in winning two late scrum penalties that relived pressure.
Chris Boyd’s men return to Franklin’s Gardens from a two-week road trip when hosting Newcastle Falcons next weekend.