The Saints started the Aviva Premiership campaign in disappointing fashion, losing away to an inspired Worcester Warriors side who grabbed the win in the very last play of the game.
The opening exchanges went Saints' way, Lee Dickson's men staying patient to go through their phases and quickly getting a pair of Stephen Myler penalties onto the scoreboard.
But if people thought that Worcester would take a hint to roll over they needed to reconsider immediately. A penalty was kicked to touch and a powerful maul earned an advantage in front of the sticks. The Warriors swung play left and right in search of an opening, and while Saints held the three points were nevertheless conceded to Tom Heathcote.
Then Worcester were attacking from deep, keeping the ball alive to send Tom Biggs away up the right wing. Tom Stephenson's tackle was excellent, but the waves of support were there and instead Saints had to rely on winning the ball back in their own 22 for Ben Foden to clear.
By the end of the opening quarter the match had turned into entertaining end-to-end stuff, with home opportunities followed by a pair of great chances for Saints, who had a pair of five metre lineouts on either side of the field.
But just as the grey line had held, so did the dark blue, and Worcester not just held out two promising mauls and repeated phases in between, but forced Jamie Elliott to fumble and then Ken Pisi to concede a penalty after holding on while running the ball back.
The ball was sent to the sideline, and while the home pack's set-up was good, so was the visitors' rearguard action – spearheaded by Jamie Gibson – and the resultant scrum brought a penalty in turn for Myler to clear the lines.
This pattern of play was typical of the first 30 minutes, and it became apparent that a mistake was going to be crucial in breaking the trend. Unfortunately it came from the Saints, Pisi fumbling a poorly directed Jonny Arr chip just outside his 22. And Worcester made him pay, Heathcote spotting a dog-legged defence and men over on the right to make a break and put GJ Van Velze over.
Elliott and Myler were next to feel the force of the Warriors' determination, the winger having the ball stripped and the latter getting overwhelmed after catching the following box kick and turning possession over. Play was quickly whipped left and it took a big tackle from Foden to stop Cooper Vuna from scoring. The defence scrambled, but conceded a penalty in the process, which was sent to the corner.
Worcester's accuracy failed them at the crucial moment, and after Saints won a penalty at the scrum, and then another in midfield, they rapidly found themselves at the other end of the pitch. But this, too, ended in a turnover, and was the last chance of the first half.
Saints also had the first chance of the second, the scrum winning a penalty some 40 metres from the posts, including the angle. For Myler it was no problem, though, and the early work from Foden and Burrell to win the kick off back had been rewarded.
Heathcote had an immediate opportunity to reply, only to make the evening's first mistake off the tee. But as they had in the first 40, Worcester were as committed and hard-working as ever, putting Saints under pressure in all facets of the game.
The hosts were patient, too, and after Saints' best series of phases of the half just before the hour mark took them into the home 22 the defence stepped up at the right moment to nullify the attack and win a penalty.
There had been plenty of promising build-up play from the Saints ahead of that, the pack getting a good maul going on the far side and runners using their power to get over the gain line.
Nevertheless the next chance fell to Worcester, centre Ryan Mills hitting the post with a long-range penalty. Two minutes later the tee was on for Heathcote to have another go, but this time the fly half drifted the ball to the right of the uprights.
Saints had had a double-let-off, but just as they had looked to have the chance to establish much-needed territory a penalty was reversed by the TMO and Heathcote went for goal once again.
This one, too, went wide, and again the visitors were breathing a sigh of relief and still just a point down. But time was running out, and accuracy was needed. Unfortunately a lineout in the home 22 was won back by Worcester against the throw, and an offload forced while phases were building in the red zone.
Then all of a sudden it clicked, and for a few seconds it seemed like Saints would be heading home with the points. A lineout throw to the back was won, the maul stayed patient, and when Van Velze sacked the second drive Myler put the ball between the sticks.
The travelling faithful were ecstatic, but the cheers did not last. There was still time to play, and when Saints did not keep control of the ball Worcester turned it over, went through the phases to the middle of the park and Heathcote kept his nerve when it mattered to drop the winning goal.
WORCESTER Pennell; Vuna, Olivier, Mills, Biggs; Heathcote, Arr; Leleimalefaga, Annett, Schonert, O'Callaghan, Barry, Dowson, Mama, Van Velze (capt)
Subs – George, Bower, Rees, O'Shea, Cox, Mulchrone, Grove, Humphreys
SAINTS Foden; K Pisi, Stephenson, Burrell, Elliott; Myler, Dickson (capt); A Waller, Hartley, Brookes, Paterson, Day, Gibson, Fisher, Dickinson
Subs – Haywood, E Waller, Hill, Harrison, Nutley, Fotuali'i, Hanrahan, G Pisi
REFEREE Greg Garner
4mins SAINTS Pen Myler 0-3
7mins SAINTS Pen Myler 0-6
10mins WORCS Pen Heathcote 3-6
30mins WORCS Try Van Velze Con Heathcote 10-6
HALF-TIME WORCESTER 10 SAINTS 6
44mins SAINTS Pen Myler 10-9
46mins WORCS Miss pen Heathcote
63mins WORCS Miss pen Mills
65mins WORCS Miss pen Heathcote
67mins WORCS Miss pen Heathcote
78mins SAINTS Pen Myler 10-12
80mins WORCS DG Heathcote 13-12
FULL-TIME WORCESTER 13 SAINTS 12