Two tries in the space of five first-half minutes from Luther Burrell helped Northampton Saints extend their perfect start to the Aviva Premiership season with a 37-31 win at the expense of winless Worcester Warriors.
The game was evenly poised midway through the first half with Saints leading 6-3 thanks to two Stephen Myler penalties before Burrell twice sliced his way through the visitors’ defensive line.
A brilliant team try executed by Vasily Artemyev helped put the game to bed effectively at half-time with the hosts leading 25-3, an advantage that would consolidate with tries from England lock Courtney Lawes, making his first start since February, and replacement Mike Haywood.
Having trailed 37-3 at one stage, Worcester showed remarkable fighting spirit to earn an attacking bonus point with four tries in the last 16 minutes through replacements Jonny Arr, Josh Matavesi, Josh Drauniniu and, at the death, Ollie Hayes.
Fly-half Andy Goode, who finished with 11 points, added the conversion from Hayes’ effort to ensure Worcester left Franklin’s Gardens with two bonus points.
Goode opened his account with a third-minute penalty but the lead lasted a matter of seconds before Myler replied with a kick of his own after Lawes won the restart.
The Saints fly-half added to his tally in the tenth minute after Dean Schofield illegally halted a surging maul.
With both teams knocking on at regular intervals the game needed a spark and it was provided on 19 minutes by Burrell whose acceleration left Chris Jones clutching at thin air. Myler added the conversion to take Saints into a 13-3 lead.
Worcester won a penalty from the resulting restart only for Goode to miss a straightforward penalty and his error was compounded when Saints went down the other end of the field to score.
The visitors failed to claim Aleki Lutui’s lineout inside their own 22 and when Saints spread the play Burrell opted to ignore an overlap and cut inside for his second try again converted by Myler.
The third try, on 30 minutes, was more of a team affair as No.8 Rhys Oakley broke off the back of a scrum feeding Phil Dowson whose superb offload allowed Artemyev to scamper in the corner. Myler was off target with the conversion.
Worcester did apply some pressure at the end of the first and start of the second halves but on both occasions poor handling prevented them coming away with a score.
Northampton though were ruthless in the Worcester 22 and they got their bonus point try on 48 minutes with Lawes possessing too much power to be stopped on the tryline. Myler converted to extend the lead to 32-3.
It was with much relief to Warriors boss Richard Hill that Ken Pisi’s try soon after was disallowed but a fifth try did arrive via Haywood’s pick and go on the hour mark that Myler was unable to convert.
But Hill’s reinforcements from the bench sparked a Worcester fightback. First on 64 minutes scrum-half Arr went over from close range before 60 seconds later Matavesi picked a terrific line to cut through the Saints defence.
Northampton had lost their way slightly and conceded a third try when Drauniniu darted over with ten minutes remaining and with seconds left Hayes finished off a driving maul that allowed Goode, at the second attempt, to convert to earn Worcester a bonus point.