Northampton’s forward dominance eventually told as Christian Day’s last-gasp try saw them enhance their Aviva Premiership play-off aspirations and end Wasps’ unbeaten home record at a snowy Adams Park.
Northampton bossed the close exchanges and a penalty try plus further scores from Lee Dickson and Dylan Hartley – as well as four points from Stephen Myler’s boot – gave them a 19-16 half-time lead.
Wasps had twice been reduced to 14 men as Rhys Thomas and Tom Palmer went to the bin in the first half, but Tom Varndell’s try, two penalties and a conversion from Stephen Jones and a three-pointer from Elliot Daly kept them in it.
And centre Daly’s wonderful finish down the left, after another Jones penalty, briefly put them on course for a remarkable victory.
But there was still time for Ashley Johnson to become the third Wasp to receive a yellow card, and another punishing series of Saints drives ended with Day’s crucial try at the death, with Myler’s conversion sealing the win.
Northampton’s renowned forward power was clear for all to see from the off as they made light of the freezing conditions.
Their first driving line-out put the Wasps pack in reverse and when hooker Thomas pulled the maul down, referee David Rose had no hesitation in awarding a penalty try and sending the Wales international to the bin.
Another monstrous drive of almost 40 metres put Wasps under the cosh again seconds later, although the hosts escaped to get on the scoreboard with a long-range penalty from Daly.
But Northampton’s might told again in the 16th minute, Wasps once more tried to collapse and prevent the inevitable, but scrum-half Dickson wormed his way over anyway.
Myler missed the conversion and Wasps replied instantly with a wonderful finish from Varndell from their first attacking chance.
Billy Vunipola’s pass had left his wing with plenty to do, but Varndell turned on the afterburners to evade James Wilson and race in from halfway.
Jones added the extras and soon slotted a penalty to give Wasps a remarkable 13-12 lead considering the difficulties they were experiencing at close quarters.
Normal service was soon resumed as Palmer, back after a three month injury lay-off became the second Wasp in the bin for bringing down a Saints maul.
The visitors punished the ill-discipline as Hartley crashed over and Myler converted. Jones’ second penalty ensured Wasps were just three adrift at the break although there was little alteration to the pattern of the game in the third quarter.
Time and again Northampton easily made yards through their pack, but, as in the first half, they turned down several kickable penalties in an effort to kill Wasps off with a try.
Wasps grew in belief when Hartley threw in crooked at a close-range line-out on the hour and Wasps, now with England stars Joe Launchbury and James Haskell on the field, rampaged up field to earn a penalty which Jones slotted to tie the scores.
From a position of complete dominance, the visitors were rocking, and Wasps punished them with a well-worked try in the 62nd minute.
Replacement hooker Tom Lindsay charged through several weak tackles before Johnson freed Daly out wide.
The centre shrugged off Myler and beat a feeble Ben Foden tackle to dot down in the corner as Saints protested for a foot in touch.
But television match official Graham Hughes ruled in the affirmative and the try was given.
Saints desperately sought a response, and Johnson became the third Wasp to receive a yellow card for illegally stopping a Northampton drive, leaving them helpless to prevent Day snatching the win and a bonus point.
n Harlequins chief Conor O’Shea has no doubt the club’s sizeable England contingent will be raring to go against Aviva Premiership title rivals Saracens today.
All four players involved in last Saturday’s RBS Six Nations title decider against Wales when England suffered a record 30-3 defeat – captain Chris Robshaw, full-back Mike Brown, scrum-half Danny Care and prop Joe Marler – will start at Allianz Park.
“Our fellas have had an incredible run in the Six Nations,” O’Shea said. “Not many people get to play in a Grand Slam game, and not many people get to play in every game through the tournament [like Robshaw and Brown]. We are looking forward to having them back.
“They have had good and bad experiences. I had a chat to all of them. Will they all be better for what went on? Absolutely they will.
“It is tiring mentally, as much as physically. They all want to come back. Danny is desperate to play, Browny is desperate to play full-back, as you would expect. And Joe just wants to get out there. “I had a sit down with Chris, and he wants to get stuck straight back in.
“We will give him a little bit of time off after this game. Even though he had three off weeks during the period, mentally for the captain of England it is tougher.
“He will play on Sunday and then he will get away and Luke Wallace will play the following weekend [against Gloucester].”
Saracens, who welcome back England stars like Alex Goode, Brad Barritt and Owen Farrell, have lost just one of their last eight Premiership games, while they are unbeaten in three starts on the artificial surface at Allianz Park.