Josh Bassett’s late try sealed Wasps’ 20-15 triumph at Franklin’s Gardens, but in truth they were made to make very hard for their win by Northampton Saints.
Despite dominating in terms of territory, the hosts found themselves down at half-time after man-of-the-match Jimmy Gopperth’s superb breakaway score and penalty cancelled out George North’s early try.
And despite countless opportunities, another Gopperth penalty and Bassett’s effort on 79 minutes meant Tom Kessell’s sniping try was no more than a consolation.
North opened the scoring as Northampton made a blistering start, with the Wales international taking advantage of an overlap after Louis Picamoles made the initial break from a lineout drive.
Myler’s conversion went wide, but Northampton kept up the pressure with great hands and movement in the first ten minutes – with Harry Mallinder and Courtney Lawes unlocking the Wasps defence.
A penalty into the corner brought a series of five-metre scrums and lineouts, but desperate defending from Wasps kept them at bay, before Ken Pisi’s knock on under pressure from Danny Cipriani halted their progress.
Dai Young would be delighted that his defence held up under such intense pressure, but not as happy as he will have been with Wasps first try which saw them take the lead.
Having been camped in their own half they crafted a wonderful try which saw them break 95 metres for a score under the posts.
Sublime instinct from Cipriani at the base of the scrum created a two-on-two on the blindside, before he gathered his own grubber and sent Guy Thompson clear. The back-rower then drew in the last man and offloaded to Gopperth who finished off in style.
Pisi thought he had put Northampton back ahead just moments later as scythed through the Wasps line to score, but Alex Waller was penalised by the TMO for obstructing Elliot Daly.
Jamie Gibson was then pinged for not rolling away on the half hour, and Gopperth took advantage of the soft penalty to curl his effort through the uprights and put Wasps ahead by five points.
Over 35% of the first-half was spent inside Wasps’ own 25, but for all of Northampton’s pressure, they were held up for the umpteenth time in the 40th minute and went in behind at the break.
Picamoles could not quite find Pisi in the 44th minute with an offload on the tryline as Saints again came out firing.
Cipriani was forced off early in his 100th appearance for Wasps with an injury, with Kyle Eastmond replacing him and Gopperth switching to fly-half.
The Kiwi’s 53rd-minute penalty gave the visitors some breathing room as they won a scrum penalty, but Daly’s long-range effort from the tee went wide a minute later after Kieran Brookes put his hands in the ruck.
Northampton continued to search for a way through Wasps’ dogged defence, but the visitors were threatening on the counter with Christian Wade almost chasing down Gopperth’s 64th-minute grubber only for North to clear up.
The Saints let another chance go begging with ten minutes remaining, Lawes spilling as they built the phases once again with North in acres of space on the left.
Hughes eventually saw yellow after Northampton kicked for the corner once again for pulling down the maul, and the extra man told when replacement Kessell snuck over the whitewash to set up a grandstand finish at 13-12.
But Wasps pulled the coal out of the fire to seal the victory when Josh Bassett latched on to Dan Robson’s chip through, and to add insult to injury Pisi was yellow carded for blocking the scrum-half’s chase.
Stephen Myler’s last-gasp penalty earned Northampton a losing bonus, but after so many opportunities in the red zone Jim Mallinder will be disappointed it was not four points.