Saints may have been shorn of captains at the Madejski Stadium on Saturday, but they certainly weren’t short of leaders.
With regular skippers Dylan Hartley and Tom Wood sidelined, along with experienced lock Christian Day, Lee Dickson took over the responsibility of steering the side in Reading.
But with the scrum-half forced off after just 15 minutes and Phil Dowson only on the bench, Saints were missing five of their main spearheads.
No matter. The collective spirit in the side shone through as they battled to claim a 19-12 success.
It was a defiant display, summed up by the final play of the game.
London Irish, who, let’s not forget, had put four tries past Saracens on the same ground a couple of weeks earlier and beat Leicester the week before, knocked loudly on the door.
As the decibel levels of the incessant drum beat in the sparsely-populated stands lifted, Irish poured forward in pursuit of a try that, if converted, would salvage a draw.
But Saints, as they had done for the previous 80 minutes, stood tall.
And as he had done earlier in the game, Samoan centre George Pisi made a monstrous hit that knocked the stuffing out of the home side.
In the first half, Pisi smashed Shane Geraghty, who certainly won’t be sending the Saints man a Christmas card this year.
Pisi had hit Geraghty with a couple of piledrivers in the game between the sides at Franklin’s Gardens in April, prompting the ex-Saint to vomit on the pitch.
And he was again left feeling sick here as Irish coughed up possession and saw their momentum ebb away.
By the time they got it back, they were being forced to rally from a 10-0 first-half deficit.
Rally they did though, and Saints were only seven points clear with less than two minutes to go.
Again Pisi intervened, forcing his opponent to throw the final pass of a threatening move forward and into touch.
Attacking flair is often discussed, but gritty defence doesn’t claim quite as many headlines.
This was a day when those tables deserved to be turned.
And Saints had done it all without the men who would often lead the line.
Who would cajole their team-mates into erecting a brick wall that could not be penetrated.
With so many experienced voices missing, each and every member of the side took the responsibility upon themselves.
They defended for their lives and reaped the rewards as Stephen Myler’s steady boot and Luther Burrell’s raw power grabbed four points which saw Saints hit the Aviva Premiership summit.
It might not have been pretty, but winning ugly will be no less satisfying for Pisi and Co.
How they rated...
Didn’t manage to make as many inroads as in the game against Bath the previous week, but was an assured presence and did little wrong... 7
Sparked the attack that led to Burrell’s try and was a lively presence throughout, doing everything he could to keep Irish on the back foot... 7
GEORGE PISI - CHRON STAR MAN
Made a couple of huge hits, including one which helped win the game for Saints. The Samoan has got off to a flyer this season... 8
A couple of misplaced passes almost cost Saints, but he showed great determination to get on the scoresheet and was vital in defence, too... 7
Made a decent amount of metres and although he was shackled well, still managed to have his moments... 7
So assured from the tee as always and his kicking was crucial in the battle of the boots with former Saints team-mate Shane Geraghty... 8
Didn’t have any time to make an impact as he was forced off with a shoulder injury after just 15 minutes... 6
This man made sure Saints didn’t miss injured England prop Alex Corbisiero last season and he just gets better and better. A big day in the scrum... 7
Part of a really impressive front row effort as Irish had no joy in the scrum. The hooker did well in the set piece and was strong in open play... 7
Another key cog in the scrum dominance as Saints totally bossed that department to leave Irish grounded... 7
Such a key man to have back as he got around the field, made some key tackles and ensured Irish couldn’t get through... 7
Really starting to establish himself in the side after a tough couple of seasons with injury and he has been a big plus point so far... 7
Showed plenty of desire to keep Irish out and the flanker was a determined presence at the breakdown, shutting the door on the home side... 7
Has revelled in getting so much game time so early in his Saints career and this was another good display on his return to his former stomping ground... 7
Carried well to push Irish back and was also a key figure in defence as Saints’ physicality came to the fore... 7
Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)
Tried a couple of things that didn’t come off, but also produced a couple of eye-catching moments, including a great pick-up to keep a slick move flowing... 7