Northampton turned in an impressive attacking display and then survived a late London Irish fightback to deny the visitors the opportunity to return to the top of the GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP.
Lock Juandre Kruger and scrum-half Lee Dickson ran in first-half tries for Saints with fly-half Stephen Myler kicking 11 points.
Irish got off to a flying start with an 80-metre runaway try from left-wing Sailosi Tagicakibau.
Northampton skipper Bruce Reihana, coming off the left wing to provide the extra man in an attacking move down the right, paid a heavy price as he failed to find either of the team-mates outside him with an over-ambitious high one-handed pass.
Tagicakibau picked up the loose ball, set off from inside his own 22 with Paul Diggin in pursuit and stretched over the line to touch down as he was tackled by the Northampton winger.
The other Irish points came from three penalties from England full-back Delon Armitage, who was moved to the centre in a late backline reshuffle by the visitors.
Northampton responded to the early setback with a sixth-minute penalty from Myler and then scored a superb try of their own.
England hooker Dylan Hartley released Scotland flanker Scott Gray through the middle, Diggin injected pace into a move finished off by South African Juandre Kruger who scored his first try at Franklin’s Gardens – and his second for the club – since arriving in November.
Myler added the conversion and kicked two more penalties to stretch the lead to 16-8 by the 23rd minute.
Saints, playing some excellent attacking rugby in front of a 13,405 crowd which included England manager Martin Johnson, running the rule over several contenders for places on this summer’s tour to Argentina, continued to stretch Irish with their free-flowing rugby.
The pressure paid off with their second try two minutes before the interval as England squad member Foden took the chance to impress Johnson who had overlooked him for a starting place in this year’s RBS 6 Nations.
Bursting down the short side from the base of a ruck, his pass out of the tackle found top prospect Courtney Lawes and the 20-year-old lock, showing excellent pace for a big man, cracked the defence to send Dickson racing over in the left corner.
But Myler was off-target with the conversion, his only miss from five first-half attempts.
Northampton, beaten only once at home in the last 25 months, continued to look the more dangerous side but a promising one-two move between centres Jo Ansbro and James Downey floundered when the final pass just evaded Downey.
Irish dug in doggedly, threatening to turn the tables after the second-half introduction of young heavyweight prop Alex Corbisiero enabled them to lessen Northampton’s dominance in the scrums and rucks.
Armitage pulled back three points with his second penalty in the 57th minute but hit the post with another attempt and Irish suffered a blow when replacement flanker Declan Danahar was sent to the sin bin in the 67th minute after appearing to throw a punch.
Two more penalties from Armitage, in the 71st and 75th minutes, secured a losing bonus point for the visitors who still need to win their final match, away to Worcester Warriors next Saturday, to make sure of a place in the GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP top-four play-off.