The Ospreys suffered a torrid evening at Franklin’s Gardens as Welsh winger George North ran in four tries to condemn the region to a heavy defeat.
The young Ospreys team, to their credit, never threw the towel in and kept going to the end, but ultimately the result was never in doubt as Saints raced to a 17-point half-time lead and denied their opponents a way back into the contest.
Already missing Dan Baker and Eli Walker because of injuries sustained in last weekend’s round one win over Treviso, there was a further blow for the Ospreys on matchday as the ever-reliable Andrew Bishop withdrew through illness. The reshuffle saw Jeff Hassler move into the centre with Hanno Dirksen coming into the starting XV on the wing.
Saints drew first blood with a simple penalty straight in front of the posts 25m out after Ospreys hands in the ruck, Stephen Myler making no mistake five minutes in.
That drew an instant response from the visitors, leveling through the boot of Biggar just three minutes later after a lineout on the left had given them their first opportunity to attack. Josh Matavesi, Hassler and Dan Biggar all made hard yards with ball in hand before the Saints killed the ball under their own posts with the flying Fijian looking to offload.
The opening stages were being played at a frenetic pace with big hits coming from both teams but the Saints were the first to really threaten the tryline quarter of an hour in.
Good line out ball on their left allowed them to launch an attack from deep, spinning the ball across field to the right wing where Ken Pisi should have received it on the 22m with a run to the line in front of him but Ben Foden’s wayward pass meant the chance went begging.
However, the Ospreys were in trouble at the resulting scrum, allowing the Saints to win turnover ball inside the opposition 22. They reacted smartly, taking advantage of an overlap on the far side to allow North the simplest of finishes, Myler converting.
Hanno Dirksen then played himself into trouble trying to run the ball back from deep but the defence was able to recover and bundle the Saints attack into touch in the corner.
The Saints were in rampant mood at this stage and although Biggar was able to clear from the lineout, the hosts came straight back at them and loose defence allowed second row Christian Day to cross, only for play to be called back after the TMO highlighted the ball going forward in the build-up.
The respite was only temporary though as the Saints did cross in the same corner just a minute or two later through Dylan Hartley, but again the TMO ruled no try because of a forward pass from Cohen.
Instead, play was brought back for a penalty to the home team for a late tackle on George North but, having spurned the chance of three points to go to the corner instead, Northampton were unable to find a way through with the rolling maul as the Ospreys cleared their lines.
The Ospreys thought they had ridden out the storm as the clock ticked past 30 minutes, but the Saints eventually grabbed their second try, and it was a second for North. Again Northampton pressure meant the Ospreys were finding themselves having to rush their clearance, Rhys Webb’s kick only finding Jamie Elliott on his own 10m line and he immediately got the ball moving across field. Ken Pisi beat two defenders before slipping the ball to North on his inside and there was no stopping the former Scarlet as he raced over to score. Myler again added the extras to take the score to 17-3.
Myler then added another three points after Alun Wyn Jones was penalised for not releasing, before Biggar was handed the chance to respond in a similar fashion with the last play of the half, but his normally reliable radar was off and he pulled it short of the near post.
HALF-TIME: NORTHAMPTON SAINTS 20 OSPREYS 3
If the Ospreys were to get anything from the game then they needed a vastly improved second half performance, and to strike first after the restart, but uncharacteristically Biggar was again off target with an early penalty from 15m infield on the Saints 10m line.
He had another go two minutes later after the Saints pack were penalised at the first scrum of the second half and this time he made no mistake.
A Saints offside saw another Ospreys penalty, their third inside the first 10 minutes of the half, but this time Biggar’s kick came back off the right hand post.
Back came the Saints though and a penalty against Grabham for not rolling away allowed Myler to put them deep into the Ospreys 22. They failed to get their maul moving this time, but Salesi Ma’afu punched a hole in the Ospreys defence, the forwards then sucked in defenders with series of pick and drives, before it was that man North, again, who crashed over for his hat-trick, confirmed by the TMO. Myler’s conversion meant the Ospreys trailed 27-6 with just under half an hour to play.
At the other end North was involved once again, beating Biggar to the ball to prevent a certain try after the Ospreys fly-half had exchanged passes with Nicky Smith before chipping over the defence and going for the line.
The game was petering out as a contest with the win secure for the Saints and the losing bonus point looking out of reach for the Ospreys, but North clinched what could prove to be a crucial try bonus with just two minutes left on the clock with his, and the Saints, fourth of the night.
There appeared little danger as the Ospreys looked to break up their right, only for North to somehow come away with the ball before winning the race to reach his dink behind the defence. Myler again added the extras to round off a painful evening for the Ospreys who saw their winning start to the season brought to an end in no uncertain terms.