Europe gives precious little scope for comebacks so Northampton, having lost their opening encounter of the Champions Cup in Paris, needed to make up lost ground as swiftly as possible. The sight of all seven of their England squad members in action was earnest of intent but, not for the first time, George North, the Wales wing, revived their Pool Five challenge with a wonderful quartet of tries.
North himself would admit that his forwards played their part too. This fixture brought together the leaders of, respectively, the Aviva Premiership and the GuinnessPro12, but the Ospreys scrum could not live with the opposition. Three times they were penalised, a third time they controlled the ball so poorly that Northampton scored and, though Justin Tipuric and friends forced a couple of turnovers, the Welsh region were forced to play far too much rugby in their own half.
A nervy start and exchange of penalties by the two fly halves merely paved the way for Northampton to impose their will on the game. The Saints have been here before, of course, as recently as last year when a modest start to Europe against French opposition was followed by a comforting win over the Ospreys and if there was Welsh assistance to the home side, it came from their own wing, North.
His first try came when the Ospreys lost control of their own scrum ball. No one tidied up and Northampton gleefully grabbed the turnover, Stephen Myler’s long pass giving North, who moved to centre when James Wilson went off injured, the required space.
But try as they might, Northampton could not add to their advantage: first Christian Day was over the line but recalled for a knock-on by Dylan Hartley, then Tom Wood crossed unopposed but was brought back for a forward pass.
They forced plenty of errors from their visitors but, in the end, owed their second try to Ospreys possession kicked away to Ken Pisi. The Samoa wing eluded the chase and found North cutting a diagonal line past despairing tacklers for his second try. Myler’s conversion and a second penalty just before the interval gave Northampton a healthy lead, made even better when Dan Biggar missed a 35-metre penalty on the stroke of half-time.
However Biggar, at the second attempt, reduced the lead with a penalty, and the sight of Luther Burrell leaving the field holding damaged fingers was not encouraging for Northampton or England. North steadied the ship with his third try, after a bullocking run by Salesi Ma’afu; Myler’s calm game management and sound goal-kicking did his national cause no harm and North, inevitably, scored the bonus-point try with a kick-and-chase.
Northampton: B Foden; K Pisi, J Wilson (J Elliott, 10), L Burrell (W Hooley, 42), G North; S Myler, L Dickson (K Fotuali’i, 59); A Waller (E Waller, 74), D Hartley (captain; M Haywood, 64), S Ma’afu (G Denman, 56), C Lawes, C Day (J Craig, 56), C Clark (P Dowson, 71), T Wood, S Manoa.
Ospreys: D Evans; T Grabham, J Hassler, J Matavesi, H Dirksen; D Biggar, R Webb (M Roberts, 74); N Smith (D Jones, 64), S Baldwin (S Parry, 68), D Arhip (A Jarvis, 56), L Peers (R Bernardo, 64), A Wyn Jones (captain), J King, J Tipuric, J Bearman (M Allen, 41-74; S Lewis, 74).
Referee: R Poite (France).Reuse content