Northampton 27 Ospreys 16
Northampton kick-started their Heineken Cup campaign with a priceless victory at Franklin’s Gardens that put them firmly back in the Pool One mix.
Star-studded Welsh region the Ospreys, though, are facing an early exit after they were unable to recover from last weekend’s home defeat against Leinster.
Number eight Samu Manoa, lock Christian Day and full-back Ben Foden scored tries for the Saints, with fly-half Stephen Myler converting all three touchdowns and booting two penalties as Northampton triumphed 27-16.
Wales fly-half Dan Biggar posted all the Ospreys’ points from a try, conversion and three penalties, yet they now have a mountain to climb in a group that also includes reigning French champions Castres, conquerors of Northampton eight days ago.
Saints, though, can look forward to home and away appointments with three-time European champions Leinster when the tournament resumes in December, content that they will be major players in the inevitable scramble for last eight places.
England lock Courtney Lawes proved a heartbeat for the home side, constantly being their go-to player as he relished an intense battle with an Ospreys pack that featured four 2013 British and Irish Lions in Adam Jones, Richard Hibbard, Alun-Wyn Jones and Justin Tipuric.
Having lost their opening games last weekend, neither team could realistically afford another slip-up, but the opening exchanges proved one-sided as Northampton took charge.
Lawes set the the tone from the kick-off with a crunching tackle on Ospreys scrum-half Tom Habberfield, and Myler landed a penalty just seconds later.
The Ospreys struggled to escape from inside their own 22, with Northampton monopolising possession and establishing early set-piece dominance that resulted in an easy try for Manoa.
Manoa picked up from a five-metre scrum and touched down without an Ospreys hand being laid on him, with Myler’s conversion making it 10-0 before the visitors stirred through a long-range Biggar penalty.
Biggar had a similar opportunity three minutes later, and he again made no mistake, striking the ball brilliantly to cut Northampton’s lead and serve notice that the Ospreys had no intention of rolling over.
But the Saints knew they could revert to their forward power game, and the Ospreys had no answer when England midfield hopeful Luther Burrell was used as a battering ram, smashing the first line of defensive cover.
The Ospreys simply ran out of numbers, and an unmarked Day had a simple task of touching down before Myler’s touchline conversion took Northampton 17-6 ahead and left their opponents on the brink as half-time approached.
Ospreys full-back Richard Fussell then sparked a counter-attack that almost resulted in a try for wing Jeff Hassler, but Northampton quashed the danger and trooped off good value for their 11-point advantage.
The Ospreys knew they had to blast out of the blocks immediately after half-time, and they left Saints reeling as skipper Alun-Wyn Jones made initial headway before Biggar touched down at the posts.
Referee Alain Rolland required confirmation from the television match official before awarding the try, and Biggar’s conversion made it 17-13 to put the Ospreys firmly back in contention.
Northampton proved a pale shadow of their first-half performance as the Ospreys stepped up a gear, with workaholic Biggar at their attacking hub, but they were punished when Habberfield’s pass went astray.
It allowed Saints to charge up field, and when England flanker Tom Wood commanded lineout possession, the Saints forwards drove relentlessly deep inside the Ospreys’ 22 and when they eventually moved possession wide there was an easy run-in for Foden.
Myler again added the extras, and Saints not only held a comfortable advantage, they were also just one try away from a bonus point.
Bigger landed a penalty but another Myler penalty 11 minutes from time put Saints out of sight.
Although the Ospreys diligently went in search of a losing bonus point they ended the contest yet to break their duck after two games.
And they also finished the game a player short after the otherwise immaculate Biggar was yellow-carded for a technical infringement during the dying seconds.