Northampton Saints moved ahead of Newcastle Falcons in the Guinness Premiership table with a bonus-point win at Kingston Park.
As is so often the case when the Saints play well, it was fly-half Carlos Spencer who controlled proceedings with the former All Black turning in a masterful display in the art of passing.
Spencer scored one of Northampton’s five tries in their 32-13 win, and provided several world-class contributions to an entertaining game which the Saints dominated from start to finish.
Spencer was forced from the field with a leg injury in the 68th minute, but by then the damage had been done.
Newcastle for their part were disappointing, despite scoring a try in either half through Owen Finegan and Anthony Elliott, as they repeatedly coughed up possession and struggled for fluency in front of a 7,364 crowd.
Although both teams look to be clear of the threat of relegation, it is Northampton who look the more likely to finish the season in style.
The visitors were certainly the quicker into their stride, with Bruce Reihana taking advantage of a wayward Matt Burke clearance in the very first minute to return the ball with interest.
The ball was recycled through seven phases of play and eventually worked to England winger Ben Cohen to dive over in the opposite corner following some telling contributions from Spencer and David Quinlan.
Reihana missed the conversion from wide out and Falcons responded quickly as Saints were penalised at a succession of breakdowns.
Andy Perry claimed a clean line-out five metres out and the Falcons pack drove Finegan over the line to level the scores after 10 minutes.
Spencer added Saints’ second try of the game in the 16th minute when he capitalised on James Grindal’s fumble at the back of a ruck to hack the ball through from 50 metres out before gathering and falling over the line. Reihana
was again unable to convert.
Reihana added a Saints penalty when Robbie Morris encroached at a ruck, before Dave Walder made it 13-8 with a 29th-minute penalty for the Falcons after Saints handled on the floor.
Sam Harding should have extended the visitors’ lead further in the 32nd minute but the Kiwi openside fumbled in the act of diving over the line. Saints did not have to wait long as Spencer produced a moment of magic to dance his way past three Falcons defenders before slipping a pass out of the tackle for prop Pat Barnard to score. Reihana’s conversion made it 20-8 at half-time.
Saints continued to dominate after half-time with Spencer pulling the strings with some deft touches with the ball in hand. Reihana should have extended their lead in the 47th minute but misjudged the swirling wind and pulled his kick
Jon Clarke claimed Northampton’s fourth try – and a bonus point – when a wayward Dave Walder clearance fell to Reihana who stepped outside Ollie Phillips and popped the ball back inside for the centre to score. Reihana’s missed conversion left the score at 25-8 to the Saints.
Elliott added a try for the Falcons in the 70th minute, and substitute Darren Fox added one for the Saints as they finished the match in style.