Considering where Northampton have been this calendar year, yesterday represented the best of returns. Their second Aviva Premiership win of 2011 – three of their six defeats have been at home – lifts them back into a play-off position.
But, for all the return of their England quartet, they made desperately hard work of putting away a patchwork quilt of a London Wasps side. Within 24 hours, the visitors lost three backs – Ben Jacobs to a damaged hamstring in training, Dom Waldouck during the warm-up and Steve Kefu in the first half – and were forced to field Joe Simpson, their England squad scrum-half, on the wing and Jack Wallace, the academy full-back, at centre, with Josh Lewsey emerging from retirement for the final 10 minutes.
Lewsey, 34, agreed last week to return for the rest of the season after two years away from a game in which he won every conceivable honour, but the size of the problems facing Wasps loom almost as large as the Everest expedition which defeated him last year. They were beaten in almost every phase of play save in the tackle, where they defended their line with such grim intensity that, at one stage, it seemed Northampton might be denied a bonus point.
"We needed to create momentum, after beating Leeds, and we have another home game [against Sale Sharks] next week before a massive European quarter-final with Ulster," Jim Mallinder, Northampton's director of rugby, said. "We think we're in quite a good position."
As significant for Mallinder as the availability of his current internationals is the return to fitness of Lee Dickson and Courtney Lawes, the lock disappointed that England did not offer him a recall during the Six Nations after his recovery from a knee injury.
Wasps did well to limit Northampton to three tries before the interval: Brian Mujati crossed in the corner after patient play by his backs, complete scrummaging superiority earned a penalty try and Chris Ashton's kick ahead from turnover ball saw Ben Foden beat Richard Haughton to the touchdown.
But the second half was a chapter of errors and bizarrely different ways of losing possession before Hartley managed to put the over-eager Ashton into the corner for the fourth try. It was appropriate that Northampton's pack secured the fifth, heaving Wasps off their own scrum ball to give Stuart Commins his first Premiership try.
Scorers: Northampton: Tries Mujati, penalty try, Foden, Ashton, Commins; Conversions Myler 2, Geraghty 2; Penalties Myler 2. London Wasps: Penalty Walder.
Northampton B Foden; C Ashton, J Clarke, J Downey (B Reihana, 67), P Diggin; S Myler (S Geraghty, 55), L Dickson (S Commins, 67); S Tonga'uiha (A Waller, 57), D Hartley (B Sharman, 67), B Mujati (T Mercey, 64), C Lawes, C Day (M Sorenson, 64), P Dowson (C Clark, 62), T Wood, R Wilson.
London Wasps R Haughton; J Simpson, S Kefu (J Wallace, 21), R Flutey, D Lemi; D Walder (M van Gisbergen, 57), N Berry (J Lewsey, 70); T Payne (T French, 65), R Webber (T Lindsay, 58), Z Taulafo, S Shaw, R Birkett (J Cannon, 41), J Hart, J Worsley (S Betsen, 41), D Ward-Smith.
Referee D Richards (London).