Wasps 32 Northampton Saints 30: Tom Vickers' review and player ratings

Saints were forced to reflect on another late defeat (pictures: Sharon Lucey)
Saints were forced to reflect on another late defeat (pictures: Sharon Lucey)

During the past couple of months, Saints have been the very nearly men.

Against Bath in February, Leicester Tigers in March and now Wasps in April, they have threatened to claim superb successes.

George North scored for Saints

George North scored for Saints

But, when push has come to shove in the final moments of the match, they have suffered late anguish.

They have seen some sensational attacking work undone by an inability to close the game out.

Late errors have cost them dear and they have been punished to gut-wrenching effect.

At Bath, a scuffed clearance and a late concession of a penalty at the breakdown saw Rhys Priestland put the boot in, winning it with the final kick of the game.

Supporters of both sides basked in the Ricoh Arena sun

Supporters of both sides basked in the Ricoh Arena sun

Against Leicester, Saints conceded a try while enjoying a man advantage and indiscipline gave Owen Williams the chance to kick Tigers to victory.

And at Wasps on Sunday, a clearance went dead, pulling the hosts back to within range and after a relentless sequence of lineouts, they eventually drove over from a free-kick.

Jimmy Gopperth landed the conversion to make it a hat-trick of last-gasp heartache for Saints in recent months.

And how damaging those late lapses have been in the pursuit of the top four.

Wasps secured the win with a late Matt Mullan try and Jimmy Gopperth conversion

Wasps secured the win with a late Matt Mullan try and Jimmy Gopperth conversion

Saints are now seventh, level on points with sixth-placed Harlequins and looking over their shoulders ahead of Sunday's clash with Saracens at Stadium MK.

But it should be so different.

Because make no mistake about it, this Saints team has made some stark progression in attack in recent months.

They have been scoring tries for fun and some of their rugby on Sunday was nothing short of scintillating.

The likes of Nic Groom and Ahsee Tuala enjoyed what could be considered their best games for the club, as Saints sparkled in the Ricoh Arena sun.

It was one of the best attacking displays from the team in recent memory.

The much-vaunted Wasps backs were put in the shade by their Northampton counterparts during a blistering first-half showing, packed with offloads and lung-busting runs.

It was fantastic viewing for the Saints fans who had travelled.

And they could be extremely proud of the fact that their team scored five tries in total against the league leaders.

But just as they did after September's 20-15 home defeat to Wasps, when Saints dominated possession but were hit with a sucker punch, Mallinder's men were left to rue a near miss.

They had again failed to ally razor-sharp attack with sturdy defence.

And they had paid the price.

While Saints have scored 30 points or more in six of their past seven games, they have conceded 30 points or more in four of their past six.

Games have been hugely entertaining, but results have rarely been as desired.

Only during the win at Sale in early March were rugby's Jekyll and Hyde able to marry up their attack and defence to produce a complete performance.

Nothing less is good enough against the league's best.

And if Saints don't get it right on Sunday, it will be groundhog day when champions Saracens come calling at Stadium MK.

How they rated...

AHSEE TUALA - CHRON STAR MAN

A superb showing from the Samoan full-back, who made some key breaks, telling offloads and also scored a try... 8

GEORGE NORTH

The Wales wing was put up against the far less lofty Christian Wade and managed to bag himself a try... 7

NAFI TUITAVAKE

Has made himself a fixture in the Saints side in recent months and didn't do too much wrong here... 6

HARRY MALLINDER

Had some testing moments in defence, but attacked superbly, kicking well. His offload for North's try was a thing of beauty... 7

BEN FODEN

Showed great speed to race away for his team's first try and he seemed to enjoy the open spaces afforded to him... 7

STEPHEN MYLER

An unusually difficult day with the boot for the fly-half, who had some very tough kicks in the wind and missed out on 11 points... 5

NIC GROOM

This was the South African scrum-half's best display since joining Saints as he set the tone with a sparky showing and some eye-catching offloads... 8

ALEX WALLER

Grabbed himself a try and put in a strong all-round display as Saints overcame their set-piece struggles against Leicester to go toe to toe with Wasps... 7

DYLAN HARTLEY

An assured presence, the England captain did nothing wrong in a second successive display of steel and composure... 7

KIERAN BROOKES

Worked hard for the team, carrying as often as possible and taking the fight to Wasps in all areas... 7

COURTNEY LAWES

This man never fails to impress these days and this was another big display from a player who surely must be in the Lions reckoning... 8

DAVID RIBBANS

A brilliant first Premiership start for the lock, who produced an all-action display that belied his 21 years... 8

JAMIE GIBSON

Saw yellow in the closing stages as Wasps' pressure told, but his work rate was immense throughout... 7

TOM WOOD

Always puts a huge shift in and was replaced with 20 minutes to go after doing everything he could in the Coventry sun... 7

LOUIS PICAMOLES

Usually the man of the match, the Frenchman didn't claim the accolade on this occasion, but he was still effective... 7

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

PAUL HILL (for Brookes 53)

Added some extra energy on a draining day for the forwards, making a couple of good carries to help Saints reclaim the momentum... 6