LONDON IRISH had an unhappy homecoming with a 40-25 defeat to Northampton Saints.
The Exiles, playing their first game at Madejski Stadium since the Championship play-off final win in May, got off to a terrible start and never quite recovered.
Saints led 14-0 after just six minutes and extended that lead to 26-6 by half-time. And although the hosts showed some spirit in the second half with tries from Alex Lewington, Tommy Bell and Josh McNally, they still fell well short for the third week running.
Fresh from heavy away defeats at Exeter Chiefs and Sale Sharks, Nick Kennedy made five changes to the side with Johnny Williams making a welcome return while winger Napolioni Nalaga was handed his first Mad Stad appearance.
The other changes saw McNally, Conor Gilsenan and Petrus Du Plessis all start with Luke McLean, Topsy Ojo, Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi, Mike Coman and Ofisa Treviranus dropping out.
But the switches did not have the desired effect as London Irish found themselves 14-0 down with less than 10 minutes on the clock.
The first Northampton try arrived in just the second minute in spectacular fashion when Wales winger George North brilliantly broke clear before the ball was worked to Nic Groom to go over.
And the second quickly followed after a fine individual try from Rob Horne, who broke through the centre to score under the posts. Harry Mallinder made light work of both conversions.
The Exiles responded well, almost getting in to score themselves only for Blair Cowan to lose control on the wing, but they did get three points back when Bell kicked over.
Irish were certainly looking more comfortable after the slow start with the ball worked out for Lewington on the wing, but he was forced into touch.
And after the spell of pressure proved fruitless, the hosts were dealt a sucker punch when Saints moved 19-3 ahead against the run of play when Horne bounced off two challenges before crossing the whitewash.
It almost got even worse straightaway when Tom Collins found a gap to break through the centre, but the ball was knocked forward at the crucial moment.
However, there was time for a fourth try before the half was out when, following a powerful drive, Mikey Haywood crashed over.
Bell reduced the arrears with the final kick off the half, but Exiles had a huge amount of work to do, trailing 26-6 at the break.
However, they quickly set about making a dent into that tally as Lewington scored a superb solo try. The pacy winger drifted across the field before breezing past four men to score in the corner.
But the joy was short-lived as Saints soon scored their fifth as the ball was worked across to North on the right to dab down and restore the 20-point cushion.
Kennedy made a raft of substitutions, utilising his bench with the likes of David Paice and Scott Steele introduced, as well as summer signings Teofilo Paulo and Jake Schatz, and Irish got over the line again with 15 minutes to play.
After a long spell of pressure just underneath the posts, the ball was eventually spun out by Blair Cowan to Bell to stroll over in the corner and make the score 18-33.
The club’s record try scorer Ojo was thrown on for the final five minutes, but it was Saints who would score again.
After Lewington twice almost found a way through, the visitors soaked up the pressure and pounced to bag a sixth try on the counter attack with Cobus Reinach racing clear.
There was time for one last hurrah for Irish as McNally crashed over in the final seconds, but it was too little, too late.
The 40-25 defeat leaves Irish 11th in the table, four points clear of bottom-placed Worcester Warriors.
LONDON IRISH: Bell (Tonks 66), Lewington, Tikoirotuma, Williams, Nalaga (Ojo 76), Marshall, McKibbin (Steele 51), Franks (c) (Elrington 63), Porecki (Paice 46), Du Plessis (Hoskins 58), van der Merwe (Paulo 58), De Chaves, McNally, Gilsenan (Schatz 60), Cowan.
Tries: Lewington (50), Bell (65), McNally (80)
Cons: Bell (50), Tonks (80)
Pens: Bell (12,40)
NORTHAMPTON: Tuala, North, Horne, Burrell, Collins, Mallinder, Groom, Waller, Haywood, Hill, Paterson, Ribbans, Lawes (c), Gibson, Dickinson.
Reps: Marshall, Ma’afu, Brookes, Day, Nutley, Reinach, Grayson, Foden.
Tries: Groom (2), Horne (6,27), Haywood (34), North (55), Reinach (79)
Cons: Mallinder (2,6,34,55,79)
Referee: Matt Carley
Scoring sequence (Irish first): 0-5, 0-7, 0-12, 0-14, 3-14, 3-19, 3-24, 3-26, 6-26, 11-26, 13-26, 13-31, 13-33, 18-33, 18-38, 18-40, 23-40, 25-40.