Saints 52 Wasps 30: Tom Vickers’ review and player ratings

Ahsee Tuala scored a special try for Saints against Wasps (picture: Sharon Lucey)
Ahsee Tuala scored a special try for Saints against Wasps (picture: Sharon Lucey)

When the question was asked of Jim Mallinder last week, there was an understandable hint of caution in his answer.

He was replying to a thought on how his squad looked in good shape for the run-in with, at that time, only England full-back Ben Foden on the sidelines.

But on Friday night, having been unable to call on the services of Luther Burrell, who missed training early last week, Mallinder was hit with a triple blow.

His reluctance to rejoice in a relatively injury-free few weeks proved justified as he lost three key men during the win over Wasps.

George Pisi, who broke his little finger, Christian Day, with a hamstring strain, and, in the most striking incident of the night, George North, with concussion, were all forced off.

It was the worst possible preparation for next Saturday’s mammoth Champions Cup quarter-final at Clermont Auvergne.

Because the day after Saints were battered by the brutality of the Premiership, the French team took it relatively easy in a Top 14 defeat at Stade Francais.

And, as Tom Wood pointed out after the win against Wasps, Clermont appear to have been setting their sights on Saints for some time now.

For Mallinder and his walking wounded, the priority will always be the bread and butter of league action.

They want to defend their crown, and, as they showed on Friday, they have a squad capable of overcoming tricky circumstances.

Replacements for Pisi, Day and North stepped up with Dom Waldouck, Sam Dickinson and Ahsee Tuala all playing their part in the victory.

But there can be no doubt that the game hinged on the dismissal of Wasps No.8 Nathan Hughes for the incident that saw his knee make contact with North’s head.

It left the Wales wing out cold and, after 10 minutes of treatment, during which anxiety filled the Franklin’s Gardens air, he was taken off the field to a standing ovation.

He will now be assessed and, most likely, rested for some time, with Saints rightly stressing that player welfare is paramount.

Whether or not the club enjoyed a sizeable cushion at the top of the Premiership, as they currently do, that would be the case.

In Europe, they will now have to dig deep, calling on all their reserves to compete with Clermont at the citadel that is the Stade Marcel Michelin.

And they will know they must be more resilient than they were before the headline-hogging incident involving North on Friday.

Christian Wade racked up a stunning hat-trick of tries on a night when defending once again went out the window.

It was a stunning riposte from the Aviva Premiership to the previous weekend’s Six Nations pointsfest.

But, as the ever-eloquent Wood also said after the game, things must change at Saints.

He knows they must stop conceding the sort of tries Wade, whose pace and diminutive stature make him a real pest, especially for giants, was allowed to poach.

Because Clermont won’t be so forgiving in France and they are unlikely to have to do the job with just 14 men for the 45 minutes Wasps were made to.

So there is plenty for Mallinder to ponder this week as he checks on his injury victims and gets the selection right for the weekend.

But whatever happens across the Channel, he can return home knowing Saints remain in pole position in the Premiership.

And with London Welsh still to come at home and only four regular season games remaining, an inevitable rotation policy could see his squad have a fresher look come May.

But you can bet the boss will continue to avoid tempting the fickle hand of fate in the weeks to come.

How they rated...

JAMES WILSON

Plenty of cut and thrust from the full-back, who helped to cover for the loss of North by once again showing his all-round ability... 7

KEN PISI

Made a couple of uncharacteristic errors early on, but soon got into his stride, posing problems for the Wasps rearguard... 7

GEORGE PISI

Had little time to make an impact as he was injured in the build-up to Wasps’ first score of the night... 6

TOM STEPHENSON

Has staked his claim for the 12 shirt in recent weeks and months and this was another good display... 7

GEORGE NORTH

Was only on the field for 35 minutes, but made a huge impact, scoring twice, with his second a superb finish... 8

STEPHEN MYLER

His crossfield kick for North’s first try was a moment of magic and he proceeded to pull the strings to become Saints’ leading all-time Premiership points scorer... 8

LEE DICKSON

Was preferred to Kahn Fotuali’i at nine and tried to keep Saints ticking over after they had suffered early setbacks... 7

ALEX CORBISIERO

Showed real hunger to get over the line for his try and the signs are good from the England prop... 8

DYLAN HARTLEY

The captain’s experience was important in a sticky situation as he ensured his team did not relent after falling 12 points behind... 7

SALESI MA’AFU

Competed well enough in the scrum and also tried to have his say at the breakdown on a couple of occasions... 7

COURTNEY LAWES

Had attracted attention for his big-hitting display for England against France and although this was a little more subdued, he still did well... 7

CHRISTIAN DAY

Put in a forceful first-half display before having to exit the field with a hamstring problem that Saints will hope is not serious... 6

TOM WOOD

The flanker took out the frustration of having to sit on the England bench for the past couple of weeks, driving his team on in a huge display... 8

CALUM CLARK

Full of fire and determination as he pushed his team-mates on to take advantage of a tiring Wasps side... 8

SAMU MANOA

A big performance and was involved in one of the game’s highlights, superbly gathering a restart and setting up North’s second try... 8

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

DOM WALDOUCK (for G Pisi 6)

Made sure Saints didn’t miss George Pisi too much as he made some good runs and filled the gap in midfield... 7

AHSEE TUALA (for North 35)

This man loves playing against Wasps as, after scoring on his debut against them, he added two more tries to his Saints tally, the second of which was a bit special... 8

SAM DICKINSON (for Day 40)

Helped make up for the loss of Day in the second row and made a few good carries during a decent end to the game... 6

CHRON STAR MAN - Alex Lozowski (Wasps)