Saints see off London Irish in frantic Franklin's Gardens encounter

Alex Mitchell scored twiceAlex Mitchell scored twice
Alex Mitchell scored twice
Saints boosted their top-four hopes with a breathless bonus-point 44-26 win against London Irish at Franklin's Gardens on Friday night.

Alex Mitchell produced two fantastic first-half finishes, and Fraser Dingwall celebrated his 50th Saints appearance with an effort early in the game.

Saints then built on their 25-14 lead after the break, with Ollie Sleightholme bagging the bonus-point score and Piers Francis also notching a tidy try of his own before Sleightholme scored again.

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Sixth-placed London Irish tried to match the home side's tempo but eventually found themselves outgunned as Saints moved into the Gallagher Premiership top four and dented the away side's play-off hopes in the process.

Fraser Dingwall scored on his 50th Saints appearanceFraser Dingwall scored on his 50th Saints appearance
Fraser Dingwall scored on his 50th Saints appearance

Both sides started with the energy expected after their respective European exits last weekend, but it was Irish who struck first as Nick Phipps found a way through to score.

Paddy Jackson added the extras and it was 7-0 after 10 minutes, but Saints responded in the perfect fashion.

Dan Biggar did some lovely work in the build-up, weaving a way through before offloading to Dingwall for the score.

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The conversion levelled the scores and Biggar was soon slotting a penalty to put his team in front.

Dan BiggarDan Biggar
Dan Biggar

But Irish weren't behind for long as Francis missed a tackle and Ollie Hassell-Collins found his way far too easily, diving over to deliver the try.

Jackson converted to make it 14-10, but again Saints were straight back at the away side's door.

Some pacey play led to Mitchell working a way towards the line, evading a high tackle before delivering a tidy finish next to the left post.

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Biggar converted and London Irish were soon down to 14 men as Ben Loader was sin-binned for taking out Nick Isiekwe in the air.

Saints quickly made them pay as Mitchell again finished in fantastic fashion to secure his second try of the night.

Biggar hit the post with the conversion but Saints had an eight-point lead and plenty of time to inflict more misery on the 14 men.

But Irish were the ones who had the chance to score points before Loader came back on, with Jackson sending a penalty narrowly wide of the posts.

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Biggar made no mistake at the other end, extending Saints' lead to 11 points with the final kick of a frantic first half.

But Irish enjoyed another fast start in the second half as Francis missed a tackle and the away side pounced, with Albert Tuisue powering over from close range.

Jackson sent the conversion wide to keep the gap at six points and yet again, Saints responded in the best possible fashion.

Sleightholme notched the bonus-point try with a trademark finish out wide, but Biggar missed the conversion, leaving Saints 11 points up.

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The lead was soon extended further though as Francis showed great footwork and speed to scoot around the outside and score.

Biggar landed the conversion from the touchline and Saints were 37-19 up with 20 minutes to go.

There was plenty of huff and puff before another touch of class conjured in the Saints Academy as replacement Rory Hutchinson put in a perfect grubber and Sleightholme nudged the ball forward brilliantly before grounding it.

Biggar converted again to make the lead a healthy-looking 44-19, but Loader stepped inside in ruthless fashion to get a try back for Irish.

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Jackson converted and Irish kept coming, desperately trying to find a way to close the gap further and earn another point.

Biggar was yellow carded for a deliberate knock-on with two seconds of the game to go, but Irish couldn't profit as Harry Elrington knocked on over the line from the final play.

Saints: Furbank; Sleightholme (Tuala 71), Dingwall, Francis (Hutchinson 64), Collins; Biggar, Mitchell (James 64); Auterac (Waller 48), Haywood (Matavesi 47), Hill (Painter 48); Ribbans (Coles 62), Moon; Isiekwe, Ludlam (c), Harrison (Wood 60).

London Irish: Parton, Loader, Stokes (Cokanasiga 62), Hepetema, Hassell-Collins; Jackson, Phipps (Meehan 67); Dell (Elrington 53), Matu’u (Cornish 53), Chawatama (Hoskins 53); Munga, Simmons; Donnell, Cowan (c), Tuisue.

Referee: Wayne Barnes