|London Irish (3) 3|
|Northampton (3) 27|
|Tries: Collins, Penalty 2, Tuala Pen: Grayson|
Northampton Saints earned a bonus-point win over London Irish as a dominant second-half display boosted their hopes of a top-four Premiership place.
James Grayson slotted Saints ahead but Paddy Jackson’s penalty ensured a scrappy first half ended level at 3-3.
Saints improved considerably after the interval and Tom Collins ran on to his own kick to finish off a slick move.
Two penalty tries all but ensured victory and Ahsee Tuala’s stunning late score brought a crucial extra point.
Saints, who climb a place to fifth following their eighth win of the season, are back to within three points of third-placed Wasps, while Irish remain ninth following their ninth defeat.
Both sides made 10 changes after defeats in their first game back following the enforced break because of the coronavirus outbreak and a lack of cohesion and sharpness was clear in a disjointed first period.
There were a couple of promising situations at both ends, but with quality at a premium in attacking areas the only scoring came via penalties from Grayson’s early effort and the late reply by fellow fly-half Jackson for the hosts.
Collins inspires Saints
A moment of class by Collins finally brought a try 10 minutes after the resumption, the winger making the most of the space created along the line by Grayson’s incisive pass.
Lewis Ludlam seemed certain to add a second try soon after only to be bundled into touch as he scrambled for the corner.
But, with Saints firmly in control thanks to their superior set-piece and their pack’s discipline and organisation, they quickly made sure of the win.
Sekope Kepu dragged down a maul with Mike Haywood poised to score, resulting in a penalty try and the Exiles’ substitute being sin-binned.
A second penalty try followed, eventually awarded after an infringement at a fifth scrum in front of the posts which also saw Will Goodrick-Clarke sin-binned.
Saints pressed for a fourth try and it arrived in style, Tuala showing great feet to evade a couple of tackles out wide and score in the corner.
London Irish director of rugby Declan Kidney: “I don’t think we are as bad as the scoreline suggests but we have to start getting results sooner rather later.
“We have to travel to Leicester on Wednesday and obviously by their selection today, they are going to be fully loaded for that game.
“You have to treat these fixtures like a tour, Saturday and Wednesday, and there are number of angles which all sides have to deal with.”
Northampton director of rugby Chris Boyd: “There are eight genuine contenders for the top four spots and it will go down to the wire.
“I thought we played a lot of rugby with not a lot of reward for it in that first half but I was always confident we would turn it into points if we continued to play the way we were.
“It took us four or five scrums with penalty awards before we collected the penalty try, which took considerable time out of the game and eventually it was to left to Alfie (Tuala) to scrape in at the death to give us a valuable bonus point. It was a decent effort from him.”
London Irish: Homer; Loader, Williams, Brophy Clews, Hassell-Collins; Jackson, Meehan; Dell, Cornish, Hoskins, Nott, De Chaves, Cooke, Cowan (capt), Tuisue.
Replacements: Matu’u, Goodrick-Clarke, Kepu, Donnell, Ioane, Phipps, Atkins, Neal.
Northampton Saints: Furbank; Olowofela, Proctor, Hutchinson, Collins; Grayson, Mitchell; Van Wyk, Haywood, Hill, Moon, Isiekwe, Gibson, Ludlam (capt), Adendorff.
Replacements: Marshall, Hobbs-Awoyemi, Painter, Bean, Uru, James, Bird-Tulloch, Tuala.