Northampton finished a difficult Aviva Premiership season with a rousing bonus point victory over Worcester at a sunny Franklin’s Gardens.
Tries from number eight Mitch Eadie, centre Nafi Tuitavake, full-back Ben Foden and wing Tom Collins ensured a 32-24 victory which means Saints end the campaign ninth. Fly-half James Grayson kicked three conversions and a penalty and replacement Stephen Myler added another penalty.
Worcester centres Will Butler (2) and Ben Te’o grabbed their side’s tries, with fly-half Dorian Jones converting all three and adding a second-half penalty.
Northampton said goodbye to 17 of their squad on Saturday including 34-times capped England international Foden – who has not announced his future intentions yet – and Wales wing George North, who is returning to his homeland to join Ospreys.
Worcester’s faithful bid farewell to Irish legend Donncha O’Callaghan at Sixways last week, but 10 more are leaving – with more to be announced during the week.
But far from being an end-of-season run-out for the clubs, the match was intense. Foden spent time in the sin-bin after two minutes for a high tackle on Worcester captain GJ van Velze.
While the full-back was cooling off, former England Under-20 cap Butler, on his first Premiership start for the Warriors, grabbed two tries in the space of five minutes which – improved by Jones’ conversions – put Worcester 14-0 to the good.
There was needle between the teams as well with some pushing and shoving at times.
The erratic Saints finally found some form and Eadie touched down under a pile of bodies next to the Worcester posts which, with Grayson’s conversion, reduced the arrears to seven points.
Butler’s match was over before the half-time whistle as he came off with an arm injury. At the same time, play was held up for five minutes as Warriors scrum-half Francois Hougaard was treated by medics on the pitch before being carried off on a stretcher.
Northampton ended the half on top with Grayson adding three points from a 23-metre penalty in the final moments.
Another crazy 20 minutes after the break saw four tries, with Northampton going 21-10 down before reaching the hour mark 29-24 ahead.
England centre Te’o was put in by wing Josh Adams to extend the Warriors’ lead, but Tuitavake hit back minutes later with a converted touchdown.
Foden made up for his sin-bin by finishing a sweeping backs movement before wing Collins ran 30 metres down the left touchline for the Saints’ bonus point try. Grayson added the extras to both.
With a five-point advantage, Northampton put the squeeze on their opponents, defending well to see out the last quarter easily.
Myler, who is also leaving the home side, kicked a penalty in the last minute to seal the win.