Two quick-fire tries from Tom May just before half-time sparked Northampton Saints to a 31-14 bonus-point victory at the Kassam Stadium that keeps their semi-final charge alive while condemning London Welsh to 12th in Aviva Premiership table.
Following a superb interception try for Nick Scott London Welsh looked to be heading into the interval just two points behind with Stephen Myler kicking three penalties for the visitors.
But just four minutes before half-time wing May, who only arrived in the 19th minute after George Pisi was forced off with an injury, found a gap before repeating the trick moments later for a 19-7 half-time lead for Saints.
And things didn’t improve for the home side after the break as Luther Burrell went over five minutes in and then again at the death that meant that Daniel Browne’s try for the Exiles was nothing more than a consolation.
The bonus-point victory for Northampton was keeps the hope of a fourth-straight Aviva Premiership semi-final in their sights but for the Exiles they can finish no higher than 12th as they sit 12 points behind second-bottom London Irish with just two games remaining.
Northampton Saints pressured London Welsh right from the word go and found themselves 6-0 ahead after just five minutes courtesy of two easy Myler penalties.
But the Exiles were fighting for their Aviva Premiership survival and weren’t about to give up, wing Seb Stegmann only denied an interception try thanks to the pace and defence of May.
However this was a sign of things to come and just before the half hour Sonny Parker intercepted and raced away, offloading to Scott to finish it off under the posts for an 80m score. Alex Davies added the simple extras and London Welsh found themselves 7-6 in front.
Before the Exiles’ try Myler was kicking for touch rather than going for the posts with Saints penalties but opted to kick for goal shortly afterwards to get the Saints back in front.
And things went from bad to worse for London Welsh just before half-time as May grabbed his first try on 34 minutes, making the most of some good work by Ben Foden to go over in the right corner.
Myler missed the tough conversion but the Saints were back on the scoreboard just two minutes later as May raced through a gap, beating three London Welsh defenders to touch down.
Fly-half Myler’s conversion went wide again but the damage had been done and the Saints led 19-7 at half-time.
It took the visitors just five minutes after the restart to grab their third try. Burrell burst through the middle and some good play by Ken Pisi and Brian Mujati eventually led to the centre finishing off what he started, Myler’s conversion attempt this time hitting a post.
Northampton Saitns pushed for the bonus-point try but were not helped when Alex Waller was sin-binned for a late tackle of Gordon Ross with 15 minutes remaining.
And London Welsh made the most of the man advantage as No.8 Browne scored a pushover try with ten minutes left to peg their visitor’s back, Ross adding the extras.
Saints thought they had got their fourth try late on as Ryan Lamb sent a long pass over to Jamie Elliott but it was deemed forward.
But Northampton did wrap up their bonus point with just minutes remaining as Burrell bundled over for his second score of the game, Lamb adding the extras.