The title of a book to be published shortly to celebrate Northampton's 125th anniversary is Nothing Without Labour. In the modern era at least, Saints are not among those whose reputations have been founded on unremitting toil. Clever, expansive rugby, with plenty of width, yes. Coalface rugby only very occasionally, and then not with conspicuous success. But times are changing and today's Premiership is no place for those unwilling to match their running skills with bending their backs.
Whatever Saints have been on the field in recent seasons - and here they are again in the lower half of the table - off it they are in wonderful shape. While they found it difficult to sell their allocation of tickets for the England v Australia match, their new South Stand was opened fully yesterday and, despite a 12.30pm kick-off, the ground was packed to near capacity. Saints are a commercial success if nothing else.
They began in unconvincing fashion, conceding two penalties in quick succession for Alex King to take Wasps into a 6-0 lead. Mark Robinson then made the first dent in the Wasps' defence, with a snipe up the left touchline, but the scrum-half was unable to get his pass away to the unmarked Paul Diggin.
Soon it was nearly all Northampton. Ayoola Erinle spilled some prime possession and Bruce Reihana hacked it to the posts, but somehow Wasps cleared the danger, having been fortunate to remain unpunished for killing the ball.
Saints' most creative footballers are the Kiwis Reihana and Carlos Spencer. Hemmed in on all sides, Spencer - who was a constant threat - dropped a wonderful goal, before Reihana banged over a penalty to level the scores. But while Rob Hoadley was in the sin bin for a late tackle on John Rudd, Saints were unable to make the numbers count.
From then on Saints needed a break, but never got one. Ultimately, it was the nous of the Wasps forwards - especially when Lawrence Dallaglio and Simon Shaw came off the bench - which made the difference by shoring up a wobbling defence, when Northampton threatened to cut loose.
Wasps edged ahead when their scrum-half, Eoin Reddan, was on the end of a move initiated by Tom Voyce and carried on by John Hart to score in the left corner. A third King penalty took it to 14-6, before Saints hit their stride. They were fast running out of time and, to some home fans, luck.
They were shown no favours by the referee, Rob Debney, who adjudged that Chris Budgen was held up over the Wasps' line. Then, in full attacking mode, Rhodri Davies scored a brilliant individual try with a kick and chase. Reihana converted and Saints were within a point.
But Hoadley handed off Spencer for another breakaway try and King's conversion denied Saints a bonus point.
Northampton: B Reihana (capt); J Rudd (R Davies, 55), J Clarke, D Quinlan, P Diggin (A Vilk, 45); C Spencer, M Robinson (J Howard, 77); C Budgen (L Harbut, 67), D Richmond (D Hartley, 72), P Barnard, D Gérard (M Lord, 40), D Fox, D Browne (B Lewitt, 70), S Harding.
Wasps: T Voyce; P Sackey, A Erinle (N Baxter, 72), S Abbott, R Hoadley; A King, E Reddan; T Payne, J Ward (B Gotting, 65), P Bracken (A McKenzie, 46), G Skivington, R Birkett (S Shaw, 46), J Hart (capt), M Lock (L Dallaglio, 46), T Rees.
Referee: R Debney (Leicestershire).Reuse content