Tom Vickers’ Northampton Saints v London Irish view and player ratings

BIG MOMENT - Salesi Ma'afu goes over for his first Saints try (Picture: James Phillips)
BIG MOMENT - Salesi Ma'afu goes over for his first Saints try (Picture: James Phillips)

Five tries, five points, job done.

That was the outcome for Saints on Easter Sunday, though how they got there was far from plain sailing.

Instead they were forced to weather a late storm, which could have grown even more severe had Marland Yarde’s try stood.

Yarde galloped clear unnopposed before dotting down, feeling he’d done enough to bring his team back to within one point, presuming the conversion was made.

The Saints fans, players and coaches were jittery enough without that, but, thankfully for everyone of a green, black and gold persuasion, the score was ruled out for a forward pass.

It was a lucky escape and one which Jim Mallinder’s men took advantage of to record a 36-21 success.

That it was ever that close came from Irish’s ability, which was evident in the early stages as, orchestrated by the enigmatic Shane Geraghty, they played a creative game.

And it also came from Saints dropping their high standards, which had seen them surge into a 29-0 lead when popular Australian prop Salesi Ma’afu drew roars of approval with his first score for the club.

Mallinder pointed out after that his team must be better than this should they make the play-offs.

And while that is true, you have to feel the intensity of a knock-out encounter, which should be a lot closer than this, will ensure a similar series of events don’t unfold.

This was not the best way to win a game, but it was certainly entertaining stuff, with two teams who wanted to play.

It was reminiscent of the victory over Worcester in September 2012, when Saints led 37-3 before leaving the door open and stumbling over the line at 37-31.

Saints played a similarly open game on this occasion, earning a couple of slick scores, including two for Jamie Elliott, who ended his near four-month try drought with a double.

And Irish showed an abundance of spark in that spirited fightback.

Overall, though, Brian Smith’s men left with nothing.

To Saints went the spoils. And that was all you could ask for.

Because while the desired destination is important, it doesn’t really matter how you get there, as long as you do.

Saints are going the right way about it, and have now racked up nine wins from 10 home games this season, putting 30-plus points past all but three teams: Newcastle, Harlequins and Leicester.

That is some record, and one they should take confidence from in the final weeks of the season.

There is much to play for and, should they achieve their aims this season, no one will remember what happened in the final 35 minutes against Irish.

If they don’t, however, this performance will be looked upon as a pre-cursor for later events.

It is up to Saints to make sure it is the former rather than the latter.

How they rated...

BEN FODEN

Still lacking a little defensively, as shown by a missed tackle on Geraghty, but looked sharp in attack, helping to set up a try with a slick break... 7

JAMIE ELLIOTT

Loves a home game against London Irish. Five tries in the past two league meetings between Saints and Irish at the Gardens. Impressive finishing... 8

GEORGE PISI

Made a monster hit on Geraghty and was certainly not shy in defence. Showed plenty of passion and wasn’t bad in attack, either... 7

LUTHER BURRELL

Was at fault for the first London Irish try but, aside from that, put in a performance he can be fairly happy with... 6

GEORGE NORTH

Nearly got himself on the scoresheet as he was stopped at the last in the second half, but made plenty of gains and was up for the fight... 6

STEPHEN MYLER

Kicked well from the tee for the majority of the game and also helped keep his team on the front foot with some neat passing... 7

KAHN FOTUALI’I - CHRON STAR MAN

Another sparky showing from the Samoan, who cleverly sidestepped Tomas O’Leary to grab a try and who injected plenty of tempo... 8

ALEX WALLER

An eventful afternoon for the prop, who was taken off, brought back on, sin-binned and then rounded things off with a try... 7

ROSS MCMILLAN

Now the only fit senior hooker at the club and thankfully for Saints he is showing good form when it matters... 7

SALESI MA’AFU

A roar of approval greeted the Australian’s first Saints try and he deserved it as he soldiered on after returning to the action after being replaced earlier on... 8

SAMU MANOA

Forced off at the break, but put himself about before then, giving Saints the platform to fly into a big lead... 6

COURTNEY LAWES

Did well in the lineout and did his best to carry the fight to London Irish. An imposing presence as always... 7

PHIL DOWSON

Impressive performance from the flanker, who displayed a real hunger to get involved and who helped break up some London Irish attacks... 8

TOM WOOD

All-action display that energised Saints and ensured they would suffer no repeat of their previous three league defeats... 8

SAM DICKINSON

Tried to carry Saints forward and his physicality caused Irish problems at times. An important member of the pack... 7

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

CALUM CLARK (for Manoa 40)

Made his 100th Saints appearance and celebrated with a bloodied nose, which epitomised his spirit for the battle... 7

GARETH DENMAN (for Ma’afu 55)

Kept Saints moving forward in the scrum, but came on at a time when Irish were just starting to turn the tide... 6