Saints secure home semi-final as Wasps are blown away

George North scores his second try in Saints' victory over Wasps at Franklin's Gardens (pictures: Linda Dawson)
George North scores his second try in Saints' victory over Wasps at Franklin's Gardens (pictures: Linda Dawson)

Saints scored 11 tries as they eviscerated Wasps 74-13 to set up a mouthwatering home semi-final against east midlands rivals Leicester Tigers on Friday night.

Jim Mallinder’s men needed just a single point from their final game of the regular season to ensure home comforts in the knock-out stages, but they did it with a devastating attacking display.

Pictures by Linda Dawson NNL-141005-162024006

Pictures by Linda Dawson NNL-141005-162024006

Wasps had flown into a 13-0 lead thanks to tries from Charlie Davies and Tom Varndell, but that was as good as it got for Dai Young’s team as they proceeded to concede a whopping 74 points without reply.

George North, Lee Dickson and Phil Dowson each dotted down twice, with Stephen Myler, Luther Burrell, Ben Foden, Ken Pisi and Tom Stephenson also filling their boots.

Wasps, who had rested a plethora of players with their Rugby Champions Cup play-off against Stade Francais in mind, were left begging for the final whistle, with a chorus of ‘Oh When the Saints’ ringing in their ears.

As for Northampton, who were able to hand game time to Alex Corbisiero for the first time since October, they revelled in the opportunity to build confidence ahead of a meeting with the old enermy.

Pictures by Linda Dawson NNL-141005-162004006

Pictures by Linda Dawson NNL-141005-162004006

It hadn’t look like going to plan early on, though, as Dickson’s attempted box kick clearance was charged down by scrum-half Davies, who latched on to the bouncing ball to score.

Joe Carlisle missed the conversion from out wide with the wind playing its part, but the men in amber were sparking ripples of tension around the Gardens.

Those ripples became waves when Wasps moved eight points clear with a penalty from in front of the posts, with Carlisle making up for his earlier miss.

Saints simply hadn’t emerged from the blocks and another piece of sloppiness saw anxiety grow as Foden’s attempted kick ahead was charged down and Varndell sprinted across the tryline.

Pictures by Linda Dawson NNL-141005-161832006

Pictures by Linda Dawson NNL-141005-161832006

Carlisle’s conversion hit the post to give Saints a slight reprieve, with the Gardens faithful desperately trying to wake their team from their slumber.

And the increase in noise levels worked as a slick move saw Pisi fire the ball wide to North, who left three Wasps defenders as he stepped inside to score.

Myler reduced the deficit to six points with the conversion and, finally, Saints had come to life.

Wasps were under pressure and an inexorable lineout drive saw Dowson write his name on the scoresheet.

Pictures by Linda Dawson NNL-141005-161913006

Pictures by Linda Dawson NNL-141005-161913006

Myler missed the conversion, but Mallinder’s men were up and running and things were to get far worse for Wasps.

Foden soon gave a glimpse of what he remains capable of, catching, jinking and setting Myler free for his first score of the season.

The successful conversion took Saints into a 19-13 lead, with Wasps starting to wilt after such a cool and calm start to the game.

The away side were also getting little joy at the scrum, with Myler able to knock another penalty through the posts after good work from his pack.

Wasps were struggling and their chances of getting anything from the game continued to ebb away, with influential No.8 Nathan Hughes sent to the sin bin.

Saints thought they had immediately profited as sloppy play from Tommy Bell opened the door for Foden, who beat the Wasps full-back to the ball to score.

Pictures by Linda Dawson NNL-141005-161953006

Pictures by Linda Dawson NNL-141005-161953006

But referee Luke Pearce, after consultation with the TMO, chalked the try off.

Saints didn’t have to wait too long for their next try, though, as a neat offload from Mike Haywood gave Burrell the simple task of dotting down.

That provided the bonus point before the break, ensuring Mallinder’s men could look forward to a home-semi-final.

The announcement of that, and that Leicester were losing to Saracens, was greeted with the biggest roar of the day from the Gardens faithful.

Saints were still keen to secure the win, though, and their pack were totally on top, bullying Wasps at every scrum.

The dominance paid off at the start of the second half as the home forwards marched towards the line and Dickson picked up at the back to score.

Myler made it 34-13 with the conversion and Saints began to ring the changes, with the arrival of Corbisiero greeted with rapturous applause.

And the England prop was soon propelling his team to a try, helping to win a scrum against the head, with Dickson using the possession to provide a score for Foden.

Wilson, taking over kicking duties after Myler’s was replaced with the semi-final in mind, added the conversion and Wasps were left wishing for the final whistle.

And their cries were even louder soon after as Dickson used a powerful burst to score and North raced home from halfway to make it eight tries for his side.

Pisi flew in unopposed for another and Saints were eyeing double figures in the tries for column, with Wilson rubbing salt in the wounds with the boot.

A reduction in their ranks was not what Wasps needed with the damage worsening all the time, but Chris Bell was sent to the bin for a dangerous tackle on Wilson.

And Saints soon had their 10th try of an amazing afternoon as Stephenson chased a grubber kick and touched down.

Wilson made it 67-13 with the kick, with the Saints victory the biggest of the season in the Premiership.

And Dowson put the icing on the cake to crown a perfect warm-up for the play-off action.

Saints: Foden; K Pisi, Wilson, Burrell (Stephenson 46), North; Myler (G Pisi 53), L Dickson (Fotuali’i 70); A Waller (Corbisiero 53), Haywood (Britton 60), Ma’afu (Mercey 40); Craig, C Day (Manoa 76); Clark, Dowson (c), Dickinson (Wood 70).

Wasps: T Bell (Goode 56); Short, C Bell (c), Hayter (Daly 65), Varndell; Carlisle, Davies (Sheehan 59); McIntyre (Reeves 59), Lindsay (Festuccia 67), Vea (Swainston 55); Cannon (Launchbury 65), Palmer; Jackson (Johnson 68), Thompson, Hughes.

Referee: Luke Pearce

Pictures by Linda Dawson NNL-141005-172529006

Pictures by Linda Dawson NNL-141005-172529006