Champions Saracens shook up the Aviva Premiership Rugby table in timely fashion before the European break, inflicting a 30-14 defeat on previously unbeaten Wasps to usurp them at the summit at Sunday.
But home wins 24 hours earlier from Bath Rugby and Leicester Tigers, against Sale Sharks and Worcester Warriors respectively, mean just six points separate the top four.
And Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall felt it was vital to secure a bonus-point win, earned by two tries from Jamie George alongside scores from Mako Vunipola and Mike Ellery.
McCall said: “It’s a great result to come away with the five points against a quality side.
“Our defence has been good all season so we’ve got to give a huge amount of credit to Alex Sanderson; we’ve only conceded four tries this season which is a great record.”
Bath are third after Matt Banahan scored his 50th Aviva Premiership Rugby try. George Ford passed his own milestone too in the 30-3 victory over Sale Sharks – his 15 points from the tee taking him beyond 800 in the league.
Bath director of rugby Todd Blackadder said: “Matt has been fantastic for us.
“I think if anything, this year he has just come back and he’s excited about his rugby again, and he’s doing simple things really well for us.
“He’s making a big impact and he’s really been our talisman so far.”
Leicester continue to make waves with a bonus-point win of their own in front of almost 21,000 at Welford Road.
Tom Brady, Telusa Veainu, Logovi’i Mulipola and Graham Kitchener all crossed in the win over Worcester Warriors.
But director of rugby Richard Cockerill was not entirely enamoured by what he saw.
Cockerill said: “I thought at times we still struggled defensively.
“We need to keep working hard and improve. I am always a big believer that if players want to tackle they will, if they don’t they won’t.
“You take the five points. It wasn’t spectacular but it was a good win.”
The third Aviva Premiership Rugby draw of the season was played out between Exeter Chiefs and Gloucester Rugby.
Chiefs fought back from 27-14 down to level the scores, but Gareth Steenson failed to convert Damian Welch’s try with the final kick of the game to snatch four points.
Charlie Sharples was on target for Gloucester in his 200th appearance for the club, and director of rugby David Humphreys said: “To play 200 games when he’s only 27 is an incredible achievement, as such loyalty is rarely shown in the modern-day environment.
“He’s the sort of player that the club needs to build itself around.”
Newcastle Falcons moved into the top half of the Aviva Premiership Rugby table with a 19-14 defeat of Bristol Rugby.
But the Falcons had to survive a second-half scare to take the points and director of rugby Dean Richards feels there is room for improvement.
He said: “If you’d asked me 15 minutes before kick-off would I take a 19-14 win, the answer would have been yes, but I’m sitting here now slightly frustrated and so is the team.
“We’re in the top half of the Aviva Premiership Rugby table with three wins and a couple of losing bonus points, but we do have a lot of injuries to key players and were a little frustrated rather than happy.”
Director of rugby Jim Mallinder felt Northampton Saints were not at the races as they suffered a fourth Aviva Premiership Rugby defeat of the season, going down 20-9 to Harlequins.
Mallinder said: “We talked about coming here and controlling the game away from home, playing in the right parts of the field and keeping our discipline. We didn’t achieve any of those.”
Tries: M Vunipola, Ellery, George 2
Conversions: Lozowski, Spencer
Penalties: Lozowski 2
Penalties: Gopperth 3
Referee: Matthew Carley
Leicester Tigers 34
Tries: Brady, Veainu, Mulipola, Kitchener
Conversions: Williams 4
Penalties: Williams 2
Worcester Warriors 13
Penalties: Lamb 2
Referee: Tim Wigglesworth
Exeter Chiefs 27
Tries: Waldrom, Whitten 2, Welch
Conversions: Steenson 2
Gloucester Rugby 27
Tries: Scott, Sharples, Morgan
Conversions: Laidlaw 3
Penalties: Twelvetrees, Laidlaw
Referee: Greg Garner
Newcastle Rugby 19
Tries: Socino, Welch, Hodgson,
Conversions: Delany 2
Bristol Rugby 14
Tries: Fisher, Eadie
Conversions: Jarvis 2
Referee: Wayne Barnes
Penalties: Evans, Swiel 4
Northampton Saints 9
Penalties: Myler 3
Referee: Ian Tempest
Bath Rugby 30
Tries: Banahan, Fotuali’i, Palma-Newport
Conversions: Ford (3)
Penalties: Ford (3)
Sale Sharks 3
Referee: Tom Foley