The Allied Dunbar Premiership has what might be termed a broad base with just a handful of points separating an armful of clubs below the leaders. But it was more than mere points which separated these two sides after a one-sided match at Sunbury yesterday.
In the end it seemed that all London Irish had to offer their opponents was passion and it was never enough against a side as clinical as Northampton, who took charge of affairs almost immediately and rarely let up until the final whistle.
The England fly-half Paul Grayson put in an excellent performance, appropriately wrapping things up with the final try and conversion to take Saints beyond the half-century and ahead of Wasps in the table. Grayson finished with a personal tally of 26 points.
However, there is never a time when opponents can relax against Irish opposition as Northampton soon learned. Having applied all the early pressure, the Saints were rather miffed to find themselves behind in the 19th minute.
An innocuous looking high kick by the right-wing, Justin Bishop, saw the ball bobble clear of Ian Hunter and drop perfectly for the centre Mark McCall, who raced free and touched down under the posts, leaving Niall Woods with a simple conversion.
Saints were soon ahead again. Grayson, who had been stopped just short of the Exiles' line in the third minute after a blistering break, punished a series of unnecessary Irish offences with a couple of penalties.
After that Northampton took charge. The back row of Tim Rodber, Don Mackinnon and Budge Pountney combined beautifully late in the half to produce their first try. Pountney got it, but it was the unit's effort, and Grayson naturally converted it.
A couple of outbreaks of ill-temper among the forwards saw Pountney pick up a yellow card late in the game, while the first explosion in first- half injury time resulted in the Saints tighthead prop, Matt Stewart, getting a wigging from the referee, Ashley Rowden.
Seven minutes into the second half, two missed tackles on Matt Dawson saw the England scrum-half scampering over after a 25-yard dash, having been set up from a scrum with a pass from Rodber. Grayson's kick left Irish with too much to do.
There were further tries from Gary Pagel, the South African prop making his debut; the score of the match from Gregor Townsend, who ran across the defence and then used his remarkable pace to go around the outside; and a deserved touchdown for the centre Matt Allen before Grayson's final word.
London Irish: C O'Shea (capt); J Bishop, N Burrows (R Hennessy, 59), M McCall (S Burns, 68), N Woods; D Humphreys, N Hogan; J Fitzpatrick, T Redmond, G Halpin, G Fulcher (L Mooney, 70; O'Connell 74), M O'Kelly, K O'Connell (R Kellam, 67), K Spicer, K Dawson (C Bird, 59).
Northampton: I Hunter (B Cohen, 50); J Sleightholme, G Townsend, M Allen, J Bell; P Grayson, M Dawson; G Pagel, A Clarke, M Stewart, J Phillips, J Chandler, D Mackinnon, T Rodber (capt), A Pountney.Reuse content