Jamie Elliott grabbed the headlines with a hat-trick of tries as Northampton Saints steamrolled London Irish in a 20-minute spell at the start of the second half to run out 40-14 winners at Franklin’s Gardens.
Trailing 7-9 two minutes before the interval, the home side blitzed the Exiles either side of the break running in four tries to pull away from the visitors and restate their claims for a top-four slot at the end of the season.
After scoring a brace in last weekend’s 25-23 win over Bath Rugby Elliott went one better, touching down in both corners and claiming a crossfield kick from replacement Ryan Lamb at the death to round off an impressive showing from the Saints.
London Irish had started brightly, catching Northampton offside in their 22 and giving Tom Homer the chance to slot a penalty from a tight angle on six minutes.
But the lead only lasted two minutes as Samu Manoa claimed the restart for Northampton, who drove the ball upfield where it was recycled to fly-half Stephen Myler whose booming pass cut out three players and sent Elliott over for the first try of the day. Myler added the extras and Northampton led 7-3 on nine minutes.
Irish continued to look dangerous out wide and Marlon Yarde should have done better after fending off Tom May and breaking into space but his poor pass gave Topsy Ojo no chance.
Myler had the chance to extend Saints’ lead only to push a penalty right of the posts, but with the Exiles running the ball back at every opportunity it wasn’t long until Homer got another shot at goal and buried it to cut the deficit to a point on 34 minutes.
Northampton faltered at the lineout with a poor feed giving Irish the chance to apply pressure in the Saints 22, and after winning a rare penalty at the scrum Homer put the Exiles 7-9 ahead with the boot as half-time loomed.
But they failed to clear the restart properly and from the lineout the Northampton maul rumbled forward only to be held up short of the line by desperate Exiles defence, with Manoa burrowing over and Myler’s conversion sending Saints in at the break 14-9 up.
The home side made a blistering start to the second half, with George Pisi charging down a Shane Geraghty chip only to knock on as the try-line loomed.
But three minutes from the restart Soane Tonga’uiha crashed over at the back of the lineout with the Exiles expecting the driving maul. Myler bisected the posts with the conversion to give Saints a commanding 21-9 lead from which they never looked back.
The result was wrapped up beyond doubt when replacement Brian Mujati won a penalty that Myler kicked to the corner, from which GJ van Velze powered over from close range. Myler’s fourth successful kick of the game gave Saints an unassailable lead.
Shortly after Dom Waldouck barrelled through Geraghty and the ball was moved wide to Elliott to race in for his second of the afternoon.
Myler missed with the conversion, and the Exiles staged a mini-comeback as former Saints man Geraghty showed soft hands to play in Yarde but impressive defence from Elliott kept Irish at bay.
Setaimata Sa replaced Geraghty and with his second touch played in Guy Armitage who crossed the whitewash to give some respectability to the scoreline.
But then Ben Nutley pounced on a loose ball in midfield that was worked to Lamb who kicked crossfield for Elliott to round off the scoring in style.