Northampton 34 Ospreys 6
George North’s quartet of tries reinvigorated Northampton’s European campaign, but the 34-6 victory over the Ospreys came at a cost with England centre Luther Burrell departing early through injury.
North struck twice in each half but saved the best for last, stripping the ball in the tackle, escaping down the left wing before chipping ahead and touching down over the whitewash.
The Wales star was crowned man of the match as Northampton celebrated the try-scoring bonus point that thrusts them back into contention in Pool Five of the Champions Cup, having lost at Racing Metro last weekend.
England head coach Stuart Lancaster will be anxiously awaiting news on Burrell, who was forced off in the 43rd minute with an injury to his right hand.
Burrell has been named in the squad for next month’s autumn Tests against New Zealand, South Africa, Samoa and Australia at Twickenham but his involvement is now in doubt.
England’s midfield resources have already been drained by the loss of Manu Tuilagi for the entire QBE Series because of a groin injury, while Kyle Eastmond is struggling with a rib problem.
Lancaster can at least take comfort in strong performances from the remainder of his Northampton contingent with Tom Wood, Calum Clark and Lee Dickson impressing at Franklin’s Gardens.
It has been five years since the Ospreys have triumphed on the road in Europe and from the moment North crossed in the 17th minute that record looked safe.
Two penalties from Dan Biggar, who otherwise wasted nine points from the kicking tee, was all the injury-hit Guinness PRO12 leaders could muster.
Northampton became disjointed in the second half, but with fly-half Stephen Myler amassing 16 points without missing a kick, their ascendency was unchallenged.
Myler’s penalty ensured Saints’ first attack ended with some reward, but the Ospreys were stung into action with Biggar almost weaving his way over the whitewash.
Desperate defending saved the try but Biggar levelled the score from in front of the posts.
Saints were forced into a backline reshuffle with concussed outside centre James Wilson replaced by Jamie Elliott, but the change was barely noticed as Luther Burrell and Ben Foden burst free.
A loose pass from Foden to Ken Pisi brought the move to an end, but the first try arrived in the 17th minute with the tenacity of Lee Dickson and Tom Wood forcing the turnover that allowed Northampton to attack.
Players were lining up to score with Myler’s pass to North sending the Wales wing diving over.
Northampton had successive tries ruled out by the TMO, the first after a knock-on by Samu Manoa had preceded Christian Day’s run and the second for a forward pass from Foden to Dylan Hartley.
With 10 minutes of the first half remaining the Ospreys’ line finally cracked once more after a clearance kick was worked into the hands of Pisi who burst clear down the right.
A delicate pass out of the tackle found North and the British and Irish Lion crossed himself despite having support runners lining up on his left shoulder.
Burrell lasted just two minutes of the second half when his hand problem struck, but the loss was offset by Biggar’s wretched goalkicking that saw him miss two routine penalties in quick succession.
Northampton’s power game flattened the Ospreys for the third try, prop Salesi Ma’afu driving into the heart of the defence from an attacking line-out before North surged over from close range.
North then came to the rescue to stop Biggar from making more of his chip and chase with the Ospreys now spending more time in enemy territory.
But North had the final say as he produced his brilliant solo finish to secure the bonus point with four minutes left.