Having failed to win at Franklin’s Gardens for more than a decade, Wasps laid that bogey in style, producing a performance which, in miserably adverse conditions, demonstrated the depth as well as ability in the head coach Dai Youngs’ squad this season.
Both sides made a number of changes to the starting lineups which won their final group matches in the European Champions Cup last weekend, in so doing ensuring they became two of the record five Premiership clubs which will appear in the quarter-finals of the competition.
Not all were enforced, most notably in the case of Wasps, who chose to leave out the international quartet of Matt Mullan, Elliot Daly, Bradley Davies and Lorenzo Cittadini, all of whom had been released by their respective countries in midweek. The head coach Dai Young said preparations for this game had already been completed, which meant George Smith captaining a side including Jake Cooper-Woolley, Alex Rieder – making his debut – and Nathan Hughes in the pack.
Saints’ seven changes saw the return of Luther Burrell and Tom Collins to the backline, while the 19-year-old Harry Mallinder kept his place at full-back. With Thomas Young on the Wasps’ replacement bench, it was the first Premiership match in which both head coaches named a son in their match-day squad.
The wind might have dropped, but constant rain made handling tricky from the start, and Wasps kept the number of passes to a minimum in a 12-phase opening drive to force a penalty converted by Jimmy Gopperth. The visitors continued to dominate possession throughout an understandably scrappy opening quarter, and they converted their territorial dominance into points when the scrum-half Dan Robson, again making the most of the opportunity afforded by injury to Joe Simpson, grounded the ball against the base of the post after a drive during which George Smith was twice prominent.
The pattern of the game remained unaltered, in no small part because Saints were struggling to make any impact in terms of turnovers at the breakdown. Rob Miller, picking up a loose pass 10 yards out, had the strength to break the attempted tackle and go over, and only a few minutes later the full-back fielded a high kick and broke brilliantly from his own half, side-stepping George Pisi and accelerating clear of the cover before timing the inside pass for Josh Bassett to cross unopposed.
Even when Northampton did enjoy a period of possession in the final few minutes of the first half, the Wasps defence held impressively firm.
A yellow card for Nathan Hughes early in the second half for a hands in the ruck offence gave Saints a numerical advantage, and with the introduction of Lee Dickson for Tom Kessell adding know-how at scrum-half for the home team, the contest looked less one-sided. Wasps’ commitment in defence, however, remained total, most notably when James Gaskell forced Teimana Harrison to cough the ball up in the tackle, allowing Gopperth to clear after a 13-phase Saints move.
Less than 10 minutes remained when a quickly taken penalty saw Saints finally break the stranglehold, Sam Dickinson picking up and surging over the line after James Craig’s surge down the touchline was stopped 15 yards short.
Northampton Mallinder; Elliott, Pisi (Wilson, 60), Burrell, Collins; Myler (Hanrahan, 67), Kessell; Waller, Haywood, Brookes (Denman, 61), Paterson (Craig, 52), Matfield (Day, 52), Wood (capt), Harrison, Dickinson.
Wasps Miller (Jackson, 73); Halai, Macken, Downey Tagicakibau, 17-27, 66), Bassett; Gopperth, Robson (Stevenson, 73); McIntyre (Bristow, 66), Shervington (Johnson, 50), Cooper-Woolley (Swainston, 66), Gaskell, Myall (Cannon, 61), Rieder (Young, 60), Smith (capt), Hughes.
Referee T Foley.