London Wasps were left staring down the barrel after falling victims to a 24-20 defeat to Northampton Saints at Franklin's Gardens.
London Wasps were left staring down the barrel after falling victims to a 24-20 defeat to Northampton Saints at Franklin's Gardens. This third straight loss means the champions have now made their worst-ever start to a Premiership season.
The Saints benefited from some Josh Lewsey fumbles in the first half as the England man gifted easy tries to opposite number Bruce Reihana and wing Chris Ashton.
But Wasps also benefited from Reihana's wayward kicking as the full-back missed three penalties to leave the match perfectly poised at 14-14 heading into the second half.
The match remained on a knife edge until wing Sean Lamont went over 12 minutes from time to leave several unanswered questions at Wasps Director of Rugby Ian McGeechan's door.
Despite the contribution of Reihana, the game was won in the pack where the outstanding Ignacio Fernandez Lobbe out-muscled the Wasps forwards.
In front of a sell-out crowd, the hosts made the perfect start in the opening minute when Lewsey's clearing kick was charged down by Reihana, who gleefully gathered up the loose ball to touch down before converting.
Dave Walder pulled three points back for Wasps on eight minutes, kicking a penalty from just outside the Saints 22 after they were penalised for not releasing.
Two minutes later, Wasps went in front when a quick passing move from a line-out on the far side ended with Dominic Waldouck going over in the corner for an unconverted try.
Saints flanker Scott Gray was then caught offside by referee Chris White on 20 minutes, resulting in Walder kicking three points from 40 metres before Reihana missed a penalty from the touchline.
But Northampton retook the lead when Lewsey dropped Carlos Spencer's kick, and Chris Ashton, who grabbed 39 tries in National One, ran in under the posts for his first score in the Premiership.
On 32 minutes former All Black Reihana hit the upright from a penalty from 45 metres, before missing one from a similar distance two minutes later.
And Walder showed him how to do it with a textbook strike right on the stroke of half time.
Northampton moved three points ahead just after the restart when Reihana kicked a close-range penalty only for Walder to immediately haul them level.
Both sides reduced to 14 men on 48 minutes when Rob Webber and Dylan Hartley were sent to the sin bin for using their knees on each other in the tackle.
In an electric atmosphere, both Reihana and Walder missed a penalty apiece before the Wasps fly-half landed a penalty kick from just inside his own half to make 20-17.
But on 68 minutes replacement Stephen Myler's long, cut out pass to the left wing found Lamont who went over with Myler converting from out wide.
It is the first time in 21 years that Wasps have lost their opening three games of the season.
For Northampton Saints:
Tries: Reihana, Ashton, Lamont
Cons: Reihana 2, Myler
For London Wasps:
Pens: Walder 5
Yellow cards: Hartley (Northampton – 49th minute), Webber (Wasps – 49th minute)
Northampton Saints: 15 Bruce Reihana (c), 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Joe Ansbro, 12 James Downey, 11 Sean Lamont, 10 Carlos Spencer, 9 Lee Dickson, 8 Roger Wilson, 7 Scott Gray, 6 Neil Best, 5 Christian Day, 4 Ignacio Fernandez Lobbe, 3 Euan Murray, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Soane Tonga'uiha.
Replacements: 16 Paul Shields, 17 Barry Stewart, 18 Tom Smith, 19 Alex Rae, 20 Mark Hopley, 21 Ben Foden, 22 Stephen Myler.
London Wasps: 15 Josh Lewsey, 14 Paul Sackey, 13 Dominic Waldouck, 12 Riki Flutey, 11 Tom Voyce, 10 Dave Walder, 9 Eoin Reddan, 8 John Hart, 7 James Haskell, 6 Joe Worsley, 5 Tom Palmer, 4 Richard Birkett, 3 Phil Vickery (c), 2 Joe Ward, 1 Tim Payne.
Replacements: 16 Rob Webber, 17 Pat Barnard, 18 Dan Leo, 19 Serge Betsen, 20 Mark Robinson, 21 Jeremy Staunton, 22 Rob Hoadley.
Referee: Chris White
Touch judges: Paul Dix, Alan Biggs
Television match official: Brian Abrahams