Wasps 28 Northampton Saints 6: Tom Vickers' review and player ratings
Saints supporters probably could have stomached losing to a Wasps team who played with the kind of swagger they have so often in recent months.
Had Dai Young’s men been in the irresistable form they have shown in big wins against the likes of Saracens and Leicester, it would have been easier to fathom.
But that was not the case on Sunday.
And what will really have bugged those of a Northampton persuasion, including the players and management, is that Wasps earned a big win having hardly got out of first gear.
They had no lineout to speak of, losing the ball at almost every turn, and they coughed up possession at the breakdown.
That owed much to the disruptive work of men such as Tom Wood and Teimana Harrison, who proved to be pests for Wasps.
But Saints simply couldn’t build on the amount of ball and territory they enjoyed, especially during the first 40 minutes.
During that time, Saints knocked on the door repeatedly, but they just could not find the creativity needed to unlock the obstacle in front of them.
Much has been said about Wasps’ attacking ability this season as they have cut sides to ribbons on a regular basis, but their defence came to the fore early in this clash.
They almost erected a wall on the edge of the 22 and said to Saints “break us down”.
And Saints, despite all of the talent they have in their backline, could not get through.
It was hugely frustrating for the Northampton fans who had made the short trip to Coventry and who provided impressive support.
Because it was like watching an athlete storm three quarters of a race and then constantly fall at the final hurdle.
Even at the start of the second half when Kahn Fotuali’i made a break, Saints surrendered a penalty at a key scrum close to the Wasps line.
It was yet another chance to put the pressure on a home team who, aside from a slick early score from razor-sharp full-back Rob Miller, had shown little of the ability that had earned them eight wins from their past nine league games.
Just as in January, when Wasps started that fine run by beating Saints at Franklin’s Gardens, Young’s team didn’t have to stretch themselves too much to get what they wanted.
Instead, they simply stuck to their task defensively and frustrated Saints until they cracked.
Of course, the Northampton task was not helped by yet more injuries.
Just as they had against Harlequins seven days earlier, Saints lost players at regular intervals, with Kieran Brookes, Sam Dickinson and Lee Dickson all forced off.
But the men in grey still coped with that and had more than enough of the game to get a better result than the 28-6 loss they fell to.
They are now balancing on a tightrope in the Aviva Premiership and in the Champions Cup.
And it always seemed likely to be the case at the end of a weekend that saw Leicester welcome Gloucester and Harlequins host Newcastle.
Although both away sides performed admirably, pushing the top-four challengers close, you always felt it was unlikely they would prevail.
In fact, Saints relying on results to go their way this weekend was like expecting the McCallister family to remember Kevin when heading off on holiday in Home Alone.
So, Mallinder’s men now find themselves four points adrift of Tigers, who are fourth.
And it all means Saints have to beat their local rivals in that mouthwatering east midlands derby on April 16.
Put simply, there is no more margin for error.
Saints have to win every game from here on in if they want to enjoy success at home and abroad.
But to do that, they must rediscover their ruthless streak pretty quickly.
Otherwise, it won’t only be Wasps who are celebrating knocking last season’s Premiership table-toppers off their perch.
How they rated...
Once again found himself faced with men breaking at speed as Saints missed first-up tackles to put their full-back in trouble... 6
Never really able to influence this encounter as Saints’ wide men were shut down well by Wasps... 6
Made some good hits, including one on Jimmy Gopperth, but he failed to retain the ball on a couple of occasions... 6
Made a couple of nice bursts, but couldn’t save his side as he has done on so many occasions this season... 6
As ever, he tried to get in the game but Saints didn’t really manage to release him in the positions he would have liked... 6
Was unable to pull the strings on a tough day for the Saints half-backs, who couldn’t create the chances their team craved... 5
Admits his form is ‘a bit under the weather’ right now and too many box-kicks went astray... 5
One of Saints’ better performers, the prop made a superb tackle on Wasps scrum-half Craig Hampson and put himself about... 6
Lineout struggled a little, but he was brave in general play again, showing grit to get up from an injury and battle on... 6
Was forced off before he could make an impact with a head injury cutting short his game after just 19 minutes... 6
Still getting back up to full speed after an injury and this bruising 80 minutes really tested him... 6
Usually steadies the Saints ship and when he came off the game started to become a bit ragged... 6
The skipper got through plenty of work as he desperately tried to drive his team on. Disrupted the Wasps lineout... 7
Once again stood out for Saints. He made a superb last-ditch tackle to deny Rob Miller in the first half and was a menace at the breakdown as usual... 7
The big No.8 soldiered on after sutaining an injury but had to come off at half-time with a knee injury... 6
Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)
PAUL HILL (for Brookes 19)
Would have been keen to make his mark after getting a chance to come on earlier than expected, but Wasps stood up to the Saints pack... 6
JON FISHER (for Dickinson 40)
A big ball carrier, the No.8 tried to get his team on the front foot, but Wasps starting to gain some control as the second half went on... 6
CHRON STAR MAN - Rob Miller (Wasps)