Richard Wigglesworth admits Saracens overcame their first big test during the international period as Exeter Chiefs lost at home for the first time in 13 months.
With the likes of George Kruis, the Vunipola brothers and Owen Farrell away on international duty, Saracens proved again why their squad depth is the envy of many in Aviva Premiership Rugby.
Two Gareth Steenson penalties sandwiched a James Short try but despite their slow start, Mark McCall’s men battled back – Samuela Vunisa touching down just before the break.
The hosts did not score again and the boot of Charlie Hodgson went on to secure a 14-11 victory for Saracens, who streaked five points clear of second-place Exeter in the Aviva Premiership Rugby table.
And scrum-half Wigglesworth said: We probably weren’t the favourites to win, we’ve got a lot of lads playing away for England which we’re very proud of.
“But we stuck together and it was a big toss to win and playing into the wind first probably proved the difference.
“We managed conditions really well, they got that breakaway try but apart from that we were pretty comfortable.
“We know they’re a quality team and are going to be up there come the end of the season, but during this international period we’ve got eight or nine Premiership games and we need to pick up as many points as we can.”
Sunday’s other clash was just as crucial at the other end of the table as Ciaran Hearn and Andy Fenby tries helped London Irish move up at the expense of Worcester Warriors.
The Exiles are now 11th, one point behind Worcester and level on points with Newcastle Falcons, and were always in control at the Madejski Stadium.
Second-half Bryce Heem and Val Rapava-Ruskin tries ensured Irish did not streak away but Worcester fell to a 20-13 defeat.
It was only the Exiles’ third victory of the Aviva Premiership Rugby season, but assistant coach Clark Laidlaw says real progress has been made recently.
“I never thought it was going to be easy. In a tight game like that, I was never sure a team was going to pull away,” he said.
“Apart from last weekend (against Sale), when we were really disappointed with the way we played, the last six weeks have been pretty encouraging.”
The pick of the games on Saturday undoubtedly happened at the Stoop as Ben Botica failed to find touch to seal a Harlequins victory – leaving the door open for a stunning Northampton Saints comeback.
Saints kept the ball alive and Foden kept his cool to finish smartly, handing Saints the most dramatic of 27-23 wins and their first Aviva Premiership Rugby triumph since New Year’s Day.
Unsurprisingly, it left Harlequins director of rugby Conor O’Shea a very frustrated man indeed.
"There are so many things I could go back over but we talk about what we can control, well that was nothing short of unbelievable and unforgivable,” he said.
"You just had to walk over the dead ball line, kick it over, we had the ball in our hands, it's just a shame, it takes away so much of the brilliant rugby we played out there.”
Josh Beaumont was the hero for Sale Sharks, as they ended an eight-year winless streak at Welford Road to stun third-place Leicester Tigers.
Freddie Burns and Danny Cipriani had traded a penalty apiece, but Sale could have been clear out of sight by the time Beaumont barrelled over in the second half.
Cipriani, who was as incisive as ever with ball in hand, struggled in poor kicking conditions and missed five of his six penalties – but Sale still triumphed 10-3.
Andy Goode was also made to rue his missed opportunities from the tee as Wasps battled back to edge a 9-8 victory over Newcastle Falcons at the Ricoh Arena.
Goode, making his first start since his Aviva Premiership Rugby comeback, missed three kicks in the first half, only adding one penalty to Nili Latu’s second-half try.
Jimmy Gopperth’s radar however was tuned just enough to guide Wasps to victory, as his three penalties – the last of which arrived in the 75th minute – sealed victory.
On Friday, Gloucester Rugby emerged victorious from their West Country derby against Bath Rugby and it was James Hook who showed his international class.
Despite Dom Day’s early try, the metronomic Hook struck five penalties and some rampant Gloucester defence secured a first win in six attempts over Bath.
"It's a massive win for us – the boys had talked about what it means to come down and play Bath, it's our derby game and our biggest game of the year," explained scrum-half Willi Heinz.
"To come down here and play in front of a full house at the Rec doesn't get any better than that.”
Exeter Chiefs 11 Saracens 14
Penalties: Steenson 2
Penalties: Hodgson 3
Referee: Tom Foley
London Irish 20 Worcester Warriors 13
Tries: Hearn, Fenby
Conversions: Geraghty 2
Penalties: Geraghty 2
Tries: Heem, Rapava Ruskin
Referee: Wayne Barnes
Wasps 9 Newcastle Falcons 8
Penalties: Gopperth 3
Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys
Leicester Tigers 3 Sale Sharks 10
Referee: Tim Wigglesworth
Harlequins 23 Northampton Saints 27
Tries: Merrick, Chisholm
Conversions: Evans 2
Penalties: Evans 2, Botica
Tries: Day, Burrell, Foden
Conversions: Myler 2, Hanrahan
Penalties: Myler, Hanrahan
Referee: Greg Garner
Bath Rugby 11 Gloucester 15
Penalties: Homer 2
Penalties: Hook 5