Northampton Saints survived a second-half fightback from London Irish to win 36-21 at Franklin's Gardens, bagging a crucial bonus point.
Jamie Elliott's two tries, alongside a Kahn Fotuali'i effort, gave the Midlands' outfit an unassailable 24-0 lead at the break.
Salesi Ma'afu then touched down to extend their advantage after the interval, but the Exiles fought back through Andrew Fenby, Shane Geraghty and Bryn Evans' scores.
However, the Saints finally secured the win when Alex Waller crossed the whitewash to give them a seven-point buffer over Bath and Leicester Tigers in the play-offs.
Having suffered three consecutive defeats in the league, Jim Mallinder's men were looking to get back on track with a game against one of the division's strugglers.
Northampton immediately asserted their authority on proceedings when Stephen Myler kicked a penalty after eight minutes.
Soon after, the Saints went over for the first time in the match when Elliott crossed the whitewash following a Fotuali'i kick which was partially charged down.
Irish had their moments in attack, too, particularly through fly-half Geraghty who made a number of breaks, but Brian Smith's side failed to take their chances in the opening period.
Instead, they were undone by a cruel piece of luck as an unfortunate bounce landed in the grateful arms of the home team's scrum-half who scampered over.
Already the game appeared to be beyond the Exiles' reach and Northampton refused to relent. Ben Foden made a searing break and, although the full-back was brought to ground, the Saints kept their composure to give Elliott a simple score in the corner.
It was 24-0 at the break and matters got worse for the visitors immediately after the interval as Burrell's run resulted in Ma'afu touching down.
To their credit, Irish continued to battle and a length of the field move ended in Fenby going over before Geraghty's intercept try reduced the arrears to 15 points with a quarter of the match to go.
All of a sudden, the hosts were on the back foot and a yellow card to Waller further increased the pressure on the Midlands' outfit.
London Irish duly took advantage as Evans crossed to give them hope of producing a remarkable comeback, but Waller's try rubberstamped the win for Northampton.
Tries: Elliott 2, Fotuali'i, Ma'afu, A Waller
Cons: Myler 3, Wilson
Pens: Myler 2
Yellow Card: A Waller
Tries: Fenby, Geraghty, Evans
Cons: Geraghty 3
For Northampton Saints: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Jamie Elliott, 13 George Pisi, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 George North, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Kahn Fotuali'i, 8 Sam Dickinson, 7 Tom Wood (c), 6 Phil Dowson, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Samu Manoa, 3 Salesi Ma'afu, 2 Ross McMillan, 1 Alex Waller
Replacements: 16 Matt Williams, 17 Ethan Waller, 18 Gareth Denman, 19 Calum Clark, 20 GJ Van Velze, 21 Lee Dickson, 22 Will Hooley, 23 James Wilson
For London Irish:: 15 Alex Lewington, 14 Marland Yarde, 13 Fergus Mulchrone, 12 Eamonn Sheridan, 11 Andrew Fenby, 10 Shane Geraghty (c), 9 TomÃ¡s O'Leary, 8 Ofisa Treviranus, 7 Gerard Ellis, 6 Blair Cowan, 5 Nic Rouse, 4 Kieran Low, 3 Leo Halavatau, 2 Mike Mayhew, 1 Matt Parr
Replacements: 16 Jimmy Stevens, 17 Johnny Harris, 18 Jamie Hagan, 19 Bryn Evans, 20 Jebb Sinclair, 21 Tom Homer, 22 Ian Humphreys, 23 Darren Allinson
Referee: JP Doyle
Assistant Referees: Andrew Pearce, Nigel Carrick
TMO: Geoffrey Warren