George North’s first-half try double helped Northampton Saints extend their lead atop the Aviva Premiership Rugby table with a hard-fought 52-30 victory over Wasps at Franklin’s Gardens.
Northampton are now 14 points clear of second-placed Exeter Chiefs thanks in part to North continuing the try-scoring form that saw him notch a hat-trick for Wales against Italy last weekend.
Christian Wade grabbed himself a treble for the visitors but after Nathan Hughes was sent off following North’s second try, the writing was on the wall as Alex Corbisiero, Ken Pisi and Ahsee Tuala, twice, all crossed for the hosts in addition to a penalty try.
Both sides welcomed back a number of players from international duty but it was a man pushing for an England recall, in the form of Wade, who grabbed the game’s first try with just four minutes played.
Hughes has been a force at the breakdown all season and he earned yet another turnover in his own 22 before the ball was worked wide and Wade put on the afterburners to race clear under the posts.
Fly-half Alex Lozowski slotted the simple conversion but it was his opposite number Stephen Myler who created Saints’ first try.
His pinpoint crossfield kick was gathered by North who dotted down in the corner, although Myler failed to add the extras.
Following Lozowski’s penalty, Wade sent another reminder to Stuart Lancaster that his finishing skills are almost unparalleled in Aviva Premiership Rugby.
Lozowski was the architect – making an incisive break and slipping a perfectly-timed pass to the winger who avoided being dragged into touch and fought his way over to reach double figures in league tries this term.
The extras were duly added to give Wasps a 17-5 lead but the game turned six minutes before half-time.
North stepped inside his man and darted over in the corner for his 14th Northampton try of the season, but the covering Hughes was sent off after the referee adjudged he deliberately kneed the Wales winger in the head.
North was stretchered off but with Wasps now down to 14 men, the hosts started to exert dominance on proceedings.
Firstly an inexorable driving maul was hauled down by a desperate visiting defence, giving the referee no option to award the penalty try before a line-out drive resulted in Corbisiero touching down – Myler nailing both conversions to give Saints a 27-20 half-time lead.
With the four-try bonus point wrapped up before the break and a man advantage, the stage looked set for Northampton to pull away but it Wasps who scored first after the interval – Lozowski slotting a penalty.
A pair of three-pointers from Myler then established a 33-23 lead with a quarter of the game remaining before Elliot Daly failed to narrow the deficit as his long-range penalty fell just short.
But Wade completed his hat-trick to bring the resilient visitors within three – the ball going through the hands of Lozowski and Daly following a turnover at the scrum before the former duly added the conversion.
Despite Wasps’ brave resistance in the face of a man disadvantage, Pisi finally finished them off once and for all with a little under ten minutes remaining – the Samoan going over in the corner after a number of phases.
Tuala compounded their misery with a late try double in the corner and Myler’s conversion of the first took him ahead of Paul Grayson as Saints’ all-time leading Premiership points scorer as Northampton extended their advantage as league leaders.
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