Tries from Ken Pisi and Sam Dickinson were enough to see Aviva Premiership Rugby leaders Northampton Saints edge a nervy encounter with London Irish.
The Exiles have not beaten Northampton at Franklin’s Gardens since 2004 and the wait goes on, despite Shane Geraghty’s boot keeping them in contention after the break.
Ken Pisi had scored the only try of the first half – with the help of the TMO – before Dickinson’s second-half score asserted the home side’s dominance.
And despite a nervy finish, the Saints held on to extend their lead at the top of the Aviva Premiership Rugby table to five points overnight.
After a cagey opening few minutes the hosts began to assert themselves on London Irish, but a wayward lineout and a Ken Pisi knock-on – the latter after Jamie Elliott’s clever kick through caused a few problems – thwarted them on separate occasions.
Irish looked to capitalise and a promising overlap saw Geraghty feed his back line but the chance went begging when Tom Fowlie was shoved into touch five metres out.
Up the other end James Wilson was halted just short of the line following a powerful surge and after Stephen Myler made a dash for the line, George Pisi knocked his low offload forward.
They turned over the resulting scrum but Irish continued to scramble clear and Wilson was next to knock on – this time from Mike Haywood’s offload – and relieve the pressure once more.
Saints piled forward again and George Pisi sent over a clever kick. Geraghty fumbled the loose ball and Tom Stephenson gratefully scooped it up but Eamonn Sheridan scrambled across to force another knock-on.
But the pressure finally paid off, Kahn Fotuali’i and Phil Dowson combining to find Myler, who sent another dangerous kick towards the Exiles line.
Ken Pisi won the foot race down the right, fighting his way to the ball and touching down, and after consulting the TMO, referee Andrew Small awarded the try and Myler nailed a tricky conversion.
After a couple of threatening Irish breaks, their pack earned a kickable penalty five minutes before half-time and Geraghty bisected the posts to get them off the mark.
And he had the chance to bring them within one point on the stroke of half-time, after an altercation saw Salesi Ma’afu and Tom Court sent to the bin, but Geraghty missed the touchline kick.
Northampton began the second half in a similar vein to how they played much of the first, a dangerous break in the Irish half coming to a sudden halt as Ken Pisi knocked on.
However, the second breakthrough came a quarter of an hour into the half when, following a yellow card for Tom Guest, Northampton’s pack powered over the line.
Dickinson was the man to ground the ball and take the plaudits but Myler didn’t catch the conversion right and watched it fly wide of the target.
Geraghty hit back with his second successful penalty of the evening – an accurate kick from the touchline – after forward pressure allowed Irish to get over the ball at scrum time.
Myler was next to add three points from the tee after his long kick into the Exiles half allowed James Craig to steal the resulting lineout and Irish to concede the penalty.
The penalty see-saw continued, Geraghty making no mistake after the Saints were caught offside, but the Irish fly-half twice opted for touch rather than the posts with the pressure on in the final minutes.
However, Northampton forced the resulting Exiles maul into touch and twice safely cleared their lines to secure the result.
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