Northampton Saints 15 London Irish 9: Tom Vickers’ review and player ratings

SCRAPPY SUCCESS - Saints edged to victory against London Irish (pictures: Sharon Lucey)
SCRAPPY SUCCESS - Saints edged to victory against London Irish (pictures: Sharon Lucey)
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Footage from this game most definitely will not be put on DVD and sold in the Saints club shop.

Because, not for the first time this season, the champions did what champions do: they won ugly.

And this was about as ugly as it gets.

It was like expecting a Valentine’s Day date with Jessica Alba and seeing Freddy Krueger turn up in her place.

Saints just couldn’t make anything stick.

A team who have made bonus-point wins a thing of habit at Franklin’s Gardens this season - they had eight from 11 home games going into this one - squandered chance after chance.

In fact, had there been a bonus point available for the amount of try-scoring opportunities butchered, Saints would have had it inside 50 minutes.

Four times they pressed for the line and four times the ball was dropped.

But, thankfully, Ken Pisi, who was eventually hit by the Friday the 13th handling curse during the second half, managed to take the toughest chance of the lot in the first period.

It was a beacon of light in a gloomy game as the Samoan did superbly to ensure Stephen Myler’s crossfield kick was touched down in the nick of time.

And it again showed just how vital Pisi - and his brother, George, who was named man of the match - are to this Saints side.

There is often plenty of talk about George North - and rightly so - but on the opposite side, Pisi has performed with blistering brilliance this season.

That description did not apply to any Saints player on Friday night though, as they did just enough to get the job done.

And had they been up against a side more ruthless that lowly London Irish, they would surely have been punished severely.

The visitors, despite seeing their hosts put in a display that was decidedly off-colour, still couldn’t get over the line.

And in the end, they had to make do with three Shane Geraghty penalties and a losing bonus point.

So it was not all bad for Saints, on a night when the Gardens groaned with alarming regularity.

Referee Andrew Small certainly didn’t help the situation, with his failure to add haste to set pieces irking the home fans.

And all in all, it made for a beastly spectacle, with beauty at a premium.

In fact, had any man or woman taken their partner to the game as a Valentine’s Day present, they would have had some serious making up to do today.

But whether you score 15 points or 150 points, the most wins you can add to that particular column in the Premiership table is one.

And that was exactly what Saints did.

Like a man who has forgotten to buy his other half a card on an anniversary, all they can do is pledge to do better next time round.

And there is no better way of making this up to their fans than by winning the top-of-the-table battle at Bath next Saturday.

How they rated...

JAMES WILSON

Usually so sharp, the full-back was guilty of two handling errors that cost Saints, with one squandering a try-scoring chance and the other giving Irish a scrum they profited from... 5

KEN PISI

His clinical finish was definitely the game’s highlight and it ensured his second-half drop with the line in sight did not matter... 7

GEORGE PISI - CHRON STAR MAN

Like most of the Saints backs, he was guilty of a spillage, but it was not his fault as Myler’s pass was poor, and the centre was a picture of determination all night... 7

TOM STEPHENSON

Another man who dropped the ball rather than touch it down, the young centre was perhaps guilty of trying to take everyone on alone rather than release the ball quickly... 6

JAMIE ELLIOTT

Tried hard and almost created a try for himself early on, but wasn’t really able to get in the game after that... 6

STEPHEN MYLER

Not the greatest of nights for the kicker, who missed a couple and whose passing was unusually wayward on a couple of occasions... 6

KAHN FOTUALI’I

Typically the man who sets the tone for Saints, even the Samoan couldn’t get his team to hold onto the ball... 6

ALEX WALLER

Hadn’t played for his club for a couple of weeks before this one and he did well enough in the scrum, carrying the fight to Irish... 6

MIKE HAYWOOD

The tigerish hooker was a menace with the ball in hand, but lacked a little accuracy in the lineout and with a pass or two... 6

SALESI MA’AFU

Had the edge over Tom Court in the scrum, but was sent to the sin bin after a clash with his prop rival and he will know his discipline needs to improve... 5

SAMU MANOA

Always does a decent job in the second row but is far more influential at No.8 and was eventually moved back there late on... 6

CHRISTIAN DAY

Rescued a couple of lineout situations and tried to steady the ship, but that was a tough task... 6

PHIL DOWSON

Even the usually assured skipper saw his handling falter, but he never lacks determination... 6

CALUM CLARK

Typically impressive in his work around the park as he stopped Irish getting any momentum when they did venture out of their own half... 7

SAM DICKINSON

Grabbed himself a try in the second half, but did not dominate the game as he would have wished... 6

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

GARETH DENMAN (for Ma’afu 49)

Added a bit extra to the game when he came on but his cameo was cut short by an injury... 6

LEE DICKSON (for Fotuali’i 56)

Always asked to add urgency to proceedings when appearing from the bench, but some of his box-kicking left the home fans a little disappointed... 5