Quite a cabaret. Premiership rugby returned from its Six Nations break last night and looked set to carry on where England and France had left off at Twickenham five days previously, the wings George North and Christian Wade bagging two tries apiece inside 35 minutes. Sadly, the fun ended when Nathan Hughes, the highly rated Wasps No 8, caught North in the head with his knee as he was touching down and received a red card for his trouble.
There were wildly differing views on the degree of criminality involved: the home crowd were incensed; the Wasps contingent considered the collision to be accidental. But no one could accuse Craig Maxwell-Keys of basing his decision on guesswork. The referee viewed the incident time and again on the big screen.
North was in no position to continue and left the field on a stretcher – a disturbing sight, given his recent problems with concussion. For Hughes, who could play World Cup rugby for either Fiji or Samoa this autumn but may yet hold fire until he qualifies for England on residency, it was a peculiar night all round.
His first striking contribution, so to speak, was entirely legitimate and superbly executed: a turnover on his own 22 following George Pisi’s rampage upfield, which allowed the Wasps backs to whip the ball right and give Wade an outside line on the England lock Courtney Lawes.
Then, it went downhill for the South Seas islander. When the visitors, 17-8 up, secured a penalty deep in Northampton territory, they had a well-earned opportunity to rub in their advantage through the boot of Alex Lozowski. Inexplicably, Hughes took a long-odds punt on a tap-and-go and promptly lost possession.
Minutes later, the North Affair exploded, complete with a serious disagreement between members of the rival coaching teams. Hughes could barely drag himself from the field. By the time he disappeared completely, Northampton had transformed the nature of the contest.
A penalty try, followed by a close-range finish from prop Alex Corbisiero, gave them a seven-point advantage and ensured a lopsided second half. There was little in the second 40 to match some of the stuff played early on.
Wasps did flicker sufficiently to score a third try midway through the final quarter, Wade splitting James Wilson and Dominic Waldouck with characteristic elan to claim his hat-trick. But Northampton answered immediately through Ken Pisi and two late strikes from Ahsee Tuala increased the visitors’ misery.
Northampton: Tries North 2, Tuala 2, penalty try, Corbisiero, K Pisi; Conversions Myler 4; Penalties Myler 3. Wasps: Tries Wade 3; Conversions Lozowski 3; Penalties Lozowski 3.
Northampton: J Wilson; K Pisi, G Pisi (D Waldouck 5), T Stephenson, G North (A Tuala 34); S Myler, L Dickson (K Fotuali’i 72); A Corbisiero (A Waller 55), D Hartley (capt, M Haywood 68), S Ma’afu (G Denman 55), C Lawes (J Fisher 60), C Day (S Dickinson h-t), T Wood, C Clark, S Manoa.
Wasps: R Miller (G Hughes 72); C Wade, E Daly, J Downey, S Tagicakibau (W Helu 49); A Lozowski, J Simpson (P Weepu 63); M Mullan (capt, S McIntyre 68), E Shervington (E Jackson 49), L Cittadini (P Swainston 59), J Cannon (J Gaskell 49), K Myall, A Johnson, T Young (G Thompson 59), N Hughes.
Referee C Maxwell-Keys (Staffordshire).Reuse content