Wayne Barnes issued four cards on a fiery afternoon at Franklin’s Gardens as Saints secured a 30-14 win against winless Worcester Warriors.
Barnes, refereeing a Saints game for the first time since sending off Dylan Hartley in the Premiership final last May, dismissed Warriors skipper Jonathan Thomas for punching Sam Dickinson.
Dickinson was yellow carded for pulling back James Percival in the build-up to that incident, while Warriors duo Leonardo Senatore and Sam Betty also spent 10 minutes off the field.
Saints earned a 10th successive win in all competitions thanks to the power of their maul, with a penalty try and two efforts from GJ van Velze doing the business.
Stephen Myler added 15 points with the boot as the Warriors, who responded through a David Lemi try and nine points from Chris Pennell, suffered their 14th league defeat of the campaign.
But the main talking points was undoubtedly the number of cards issued, with indiscipline costing Worcester dear.
Barnes, whose name was booed by the home fans when it was read out before the game, would have hoped for a quiet afternoon, but it wasn’t to be the case.
The official’s first actions weren’t to the satisfaction of the home faithful as he awarded Worcester a penalty at the scrum.
Pennell made the most of it, slotting the kick from in front of the posts before missing a much tougher attempt from near halfway soon after.
Saints had struggled to get any territory during the first 10 minutes, but their first forward surge earned a penalty, which Myler landed to level the scores.
The home side finally had some impetus and after a great hit by Ken Pisi, they upped the tempo with Jamie Elliott denied a fine team try at the last by the impressive Pennell.
But Saints had the lead for the first time in the game on 20 minutes as Betty’s indiscipline cost the Warriors a penalty in front of the posts, with Myler notching.
And the fly-half made it three from three soon after as Alex Waller got the better of his opposite number at the scrum and Saints took advantage.
The Warriors was starting to lose their discipline and after Senatore was sin-binned for obstruction, Saints went for the corner in a bid to turn up the heat.
But the Warriors were refusing to crack without a fight and didn’t concede a point during their flanker’s spell on the sidelines.
And the away side had reduced the deficit to three points before the break as Pennell defied the wind to send the ball through the posts.
Saints were desperate to avoid a huge upset and set about Worcester from the start of the second half, with Phil Dowson just held up short of the line.
But Saints were in no mood to relent and after another surge was stopped by a TMO review, the home side earned a penalty try with an irresistible maul.
Myler added the extras, but Worcester were quickly on the front foot, mounting an immediate recovery as Lemi latched on to a clever through ball from Alex Grove to score.
Pennell missed the conversion to leave his team five points behind before Saints again turned to the driving maul in a bid to secure a second try.
But it was what happened outside the maul that decided the game as a clash between Dickinson and Thomas went to the TMO.
The decision was a yellow for Dickinson for pulling back Percival, while Thomas was red-carded for punching Dickinson in the aftermath.
Worcester were soon down to 13 men as Betty was binned for pulling down another maul and Saints profited, with future Warrior van Velze making the most of a lineout drive.
Myler made it 23-11 to take the game away from the depleted away side, but Pennell did add another penalty to his team’s tally 20 minutes from time.
Van Velze wasn’t leaving it there, though, and he was soon over again, finding a gap to take Saints to within a try of the bonus point.
But they were unable to force their way over the line one more time as Worcester’s 13 men held firm to deny them maximum points.
Saints: Wilson; K Pisi, G Pisi (Autagavaia 71), Stephenson, Elliott; Myler (Hooley 75), L Dickson (Fotuali’i 52); A Waller (E Waller 64), Haywood (McMillan 71), Ma’afu (Denman 53), Manoa, Dickinson, Clark (Nutley 64), Dowson (c), van Velze.
Replacements not used: Harrison.
Worcester: Pennell; Drauniniu, Grove, Fatiaki, Lemi; Warwick (Mieres 60), Arr (Hodgson 69); Fainga’anuku (Porter 69), Creevy (Brooker 60), Andress (O’Donnell 64), Schofield (Percival 51), Galarza, Senatore (De Carpentier 57), Betty, Thomas.
Replacements not used: Hammond.
Referee: Wayne Barnes