Northampton Saints 25 London Irish 17: Tom Vickers' review and player ratings

George North scored for Saints after being set up by Luther Burrell (pictures: Sharon Lucey)
George North scored for Saints after being set up by Luther Burrell (pictures: Sharon Lucey)

At times during Saturday's game at Franklin's Gardens, it was easy to see why the 2017/18 season has not been one to remember for Saints and London Irish.

The teams had won a total of six Aviva Premiership games between them prior to the meeting, and one of those was Saints' success at the Madejski Stadium back in September.

George North's try got Saints up and running

George North's try got Saints up and running

While title-chasing teams typically stay focused from minute one, teams at the other end of the table are those who switch off at key moments.

And Saints and London Irish were both guilty of that at the Gardens.

During the first half, a poor pass and a failure to gather put Saints in trouble as Alex Lewington pounced.

And Lewington was at it again soon after, showing the sort of concentration, awareness and speed that has earned him a move to Saracens this summer.

Piers Francis was playing at fly-half for Saints

Piers Francis was playing at fly-half for Saints

He was fastest to react to a bouncing ball, beating George North to it and dotting down.

Those two moments of opportunism and, for Saints' part, slackness, put Irish in control.

Sides like Saracens and Exeter would then grind the opposition down, often inflicting more damage during the second half.

But Irish, with just a solitary league win to their name this season, buckled from the restart.

Jamie Gibson got through plenty of work

Jamie Gibson got through plenty of work

North did brilliantly to claim the kick-off and 30 seconds later, he was scoring his side's first try of the game, breathing new life into the Saints bid.

Irish then collapsed as Luther Burrell set up Rob Horne for Saints' second, before a big lineout shove allowed Mike Haywood to etch his name on the scoresheet once again.

It was a remarkable 10-minute turnaround that put a different complexion on the game.

And though Irish kept going, replying through a Greig Tonks penalty, they didn't have enough to battle back, with the boot of Piers Francis putting the game beyond them.

While Irish were left to regret not securing at least a losing bonus point, Saints were frustrated that they didn't take a maximum haul.

They rarely threatened to grab a fourth try with their creation and clinical finishing restricted to that 10-minute spell just after half-time.

It meant slight disappointment for both teams, but for Saints, they can now look ahead without any fear of the drop.

Irish look doomed to be playing in England's second tier next season and they are now 19 points behind Saints.

It is time for the black, green and gold to try to enjoy the rest of a campaign that has not brought the amount of highs they were hoping for after that win at Irish in September.

The run-in is not an easy one, but it can be used an opportunity for players to test themselves.

Some youngsters will hope to get a go and others will look to do everything they can to extend their stay at Saints beyond the summer.

They will have to step things up if they are to win at Exeter next weekend, but for now, Saints can reflect on a fourth win from as many home matches in 2018.

And they will look for every possible positive they can after a game that at one stage didn't look like it would provide any.

How they rated...

AHSEE TUALA

Tried to keep Irish on their toes with a couple of counter-attacks, but was shackled well by the away side... 6

GEORGE NORTH

Will know he could have prevented Lewington's second try, but made up for his mistake with some good aerial gathers and the score that got Saints up and running... 7

ROB HORNE

A strong showing from the centre, who looked like a handful for Irish, who could not stop him scoring in the corner... 7

LUTHER BURRELL

Made his first appearance since January 6 and it took him a little time to get up to speed, allowing Lewington an opportunity to score, but he made amends with two assists...7

BEN FODEN

Looked hungry to get involved in the action as he popped up in central positions, but Irish handled him well... 6

PIERS FRANCIS

Struggled to get control of the game at times, with his kicking from hand not the best during the first half, but he did land a clever drop goal and looked sharp when taking Irish on... 6

NIC GROOM

Couldn't inject the usual tempo he likes before half-time, but was able to step things up slightly in the second period... 6

CAMPESE MA'AFU

One eye-catching carry saw the prop put Irish in real trouble and he was a powerful influence on proceedings... 7

MIKE HAYWOOD

The hooker popped up to score yet another try, taking him clear at the top of Saints' scorers list for the season, and this was another high-energy showing...7

KIERAN BROOKES

Didn't get much of a chance to influence the game as he was forced off with concussion after Saints went behind...5

API RATUNIYARAWA

A typically strong presence, the Fijian lock carried well and got through plenty of work in the second row... 7

CHRISTIAN DAY

Made a key contribution just before the break as he claimed an Irish lineout to stop them scoring a third try and he made some big hits, too... 7

JAMIE GIBSON

Got stuck in time and again with his determination to drive Saints on proving key after the break... 7

HEINRICH BRUSSOW

Is starting to build up the match fitness since arriving at Saints last month and he certainly didn't lack gusto here... 7

TEIMANA HARRISON - CHRON STAR MAN

Was the man who gave Saints the most go-forward with his sheer desire there for all to see as he carried his team out of danger and into Irish territory... 7

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

JAMAL FORD-ROBINSON (for Brookes 22)

Made plenty of tackles after coming on and this was a creditable showing from the tighthead prop... 7

DAVID RIBBANS (for Day 53)

Showed his raw aggression as he got involved in a little second-half scuffle and he was up for this after coming off the bench... 6