London Irish 37 Northampton Saints 22: Tom Vickers' review and player ratings

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With every passing away game, the question is not so much what happened there, but what exactly happened at Leicester?

Because that result at Tigers back in January is increasingly looking like a miraculous anomaly in Saints’ season.

On that day at Mattioli Woods Welford Road, Saints displayed a resilience that simply hasn’t been present in any of their other Premiership matches on the road this season.

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They gritted their teeth to claim a memorable 19-18 success borne out of defensive desire and real discipline.

David RibbansDavid Ribbans
David Ribbans

When they needed to relieve pressure, they did so.

And when they needed to take their chances, they did so.

It was only their second league win on the road in the Premiership during the current campaign and the other, at Wasps, counted for little after the Coventry club went into administration.

Even that 40-36 victory at the CBS Arena came after Saints shipped a huge amount of points, an alarming trend that has continued week after week, month after month.

Defensively, they remain by far the worst team in the league.

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They have shipped 577 points in 18 league games, and that becomes 613 in 19 matches if you include the Wasps encounter. That's an eye-watering average of more than 32 points per outing.

And they could easily have lost by more than the 15 points that they did on Saturday evening.

London Irish fluffed several chances on a night when there was only one team in it.

They had 80 per cent territory in the first half and that trend largely continued after the break as Saints struggled to get out.

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The black, green and gold just had no way of turning the tide.

There are various tools you can use to do that, including winning penalties at the set piece, securing turnovers at the breakdown and delivering consistently dominant collisions.

But Saints have not been able to do any of the above away from home on a regular basis this season, aside from in that teak-tough win at Tigers.

It has meant that wave after wave of pressure has come their way.

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And they have not been strong enough defensively to deal with it, missing far too many tackles across the board.

They have continued to ship penalty after penalty, serving to pile pressure on themselves rather than relieve it.

And it made for a really one-sided encounter against an Irish side who played at a pace that their visitors couldn't live with for much of the night.

What made it all the more frustrating was that on the rare occasions Saints did actually get into the home 22, they looked dangerous and Irish looked porous.

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But they couldn't get near the home line enough, and after scoring sucker-punch tries, the same old problems occurred.

Lineouts were lost, poor decisions were made and penalties were conceded, meaning any platform that could have been laid was lost.

On a night when they knew they really needed to show an away-day spark and quell the fizz of Irish’s St Patrick’s Party, Saints fell flat.

The black, green and gold style has been no substitute for the substance you need to win in tough environments.

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And, as fans had always feared, that terrible away form has come back to haunt them in their bid to make the top four.

They are not alone in their travel sickness though, as shown by the fact that every home team won in the Premiership over the weekend.

The likes of Gloucester and Exeter Chiefs suffered arguably even more dispiriting defeats, showing just how tough it is to prevail away from home.

But if you want to make the play-offs, you have to be able to stand tall in crucial moments under real scrutiny.

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Saints didn’t do that on Saturday, but they still have a glimmer of hope, sitting three points behind Irish with two games to go.

And, in a strange twist of the schedule, they will conclude their regular-season campaign, against Saracens and Newcastle Falcons, before Irish play again.

With eight, nine or 10 points, Saints could at least place some pressure on their play-off rivals.

But that is far easier said than done, especially if the sides involved stay true to form in the final weeks of the season.

How they rated…

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GEORGE FURBANK - couldn't really get in the game and saw his opposite number, Ben Loader, hog the full-back headlines... 4

JAMES RAMM - wasn't at his electric best, with a couple of errant passes so unusual for the flying Australian... 4

FRASER DINGWALL - tried to impose himself on the game but it wasn't an easy task and was unfortunate to see a knock-on turn into a try for Irish early in the second half... 4

RORY HUTCHINSON - wasn't able to get the kind of possession he needed to create and he couldn't have a say here as Irish took on the Saints backs time and again... 4

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TOMMY FREEMAN - was sin-binned during the first half for a deliberate knock-on but did return to deliver a stunning solo try in the second period... 4.5

FIN SMITH - made one important hit that resulted in concussion, but missed a key first-half tackle and it was a difficult evening overall... 4

ALEX MITCHELL - looked lively when Saints got into the Irish 22 but that barely happened and the scrum-half made a couple of decisions that certainly didn't pay off... 4

ALEX WALLER - cut a frustrated figure on his 350th appearance for the club as the referee awarded two quick penalties against him during the first half... 4

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ROBBIE SMITH - didn't have much of a chance to make an impact as a hip injury saw him head off the field after just 22 minutes... 4.5

TREVOR DAVISON - far from the debut the prop wanted as he was unfortunately forced off with a foot injury during the first half... 5

DAVID RIBBANS - was a bulldozing presence with ball in hand but found himself on the wrong side of the referee far too often... 5

ALEX MOON - has enjoyed a strong season but couldn't really have the kind of impact on this game that he would have hoped... 4.5

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LUKHAN SALAKAIA-LOTO - a mixed showing from the forward as he carried the fight but also found himself on the wrong side of the referee once or twice... 5

LEWIS LUDLAM - kept battling for his team and was one of the few who threatened at the breakdown on a really tough night... 6

JUARNO AUGUSTUS - looked like one of the few Saints players who could trouble Irish when he got hold of the ball, and grabbed another try with a big charge... 6

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

TOM CRUSE (for R Smith 22) - got stuck in for the team but saw a couple of penalties go against him... 4

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PAUL HILL (for Davison 33) - was able to make a positive impact at times as he held Irish up over the line and also won a scrum penalty for his side... 5.5

TOM COLLINS (for F Smith 50) - didn't get the ball in the area of the field where he wanted it, but cleared the danger well on a couple of occasions... 5

CHRON STAR MAN - Tom Pearson (London Irish)