LONDON Irish crashed to a third straight Aviva Premiership defeat after a 40-25 home loss to Northampton Saints.

Exiles’ first fixture at Madejski Stadium since their return to the top flight did not go to plan as the hosts paid the price for a sluggish start.

Nick Kennedy’s men conceded two tries in the opening five minutes and were 26-6 down at the break before Alex Lewington, Tommy Bell and Josh McNally ran in tries during a strong second-half fightback.

But it was too little, too late for Irish as Saints held on for a bonus-point victory.

Director of rugby Kennedy said: “I thought the new guys that came into the side played well and they really added to our attack, getting over the gain line nicely at times.

“When we kept the ball for a number of phases we looked dangerous, but ultimately we left ourselves too much to do.”

Reading Chronicle:

Napolioni Nalaga takes the game to Northampton Saints. Pictures by David M.Moore.

It took Saints just two minutes to grab their first try through scrum-half Nic Groom following a strong run by George North, with Hally Mallinder slotting the conversion.

Then three minutes later Saints centre Rob Horne burst through the middle and shrugged off several tackles for his side’s second try and a 14-0 lead.

Exiles put their first points on the board soon after thanks to a Tommy Bell penalty and then threatened Saints again when Lewington was bundled into touch just short of the try line.

But the visitors quickly pulled further way when Horne crashed through a number of Irish defenders before dabbing down for his second of the afternoon. Mallinder missed the conversion but Saints led 19-3.

And Jim Mallinder’s men secured a bonus point just after the half-hour mark when hooker Mike Haywood burrowed over from a driving lineout after Mallinder had kicked to the corner instead of going for three points.

Irish finished the half strongly with Napolioni Nalaga and Johnny Williams carrying well before Bell landed a penalty to leave them 26-6 down at the interval.

Reading Chronicle:

Alex Lewington finishes off a superb try for London Irish.

Exiles took that momentum into the second half and notched their first try of the day 10 minutes after the restart when the excellent Lewington blazed across the pitch before scoring in the corner, with Bell adding the extras from the touchline for 26-13.

But Saints hit back immediately, with referee Matt Carley playing advantage before they switched it wide for North to coast over, with Mallinder’s conversion putting them 33-13 in front.

Irish would not lie down and their persistence paid off when replacement scrum-half Scott Steele sent Bell over the line with 15 minutes to go.

But as Exiles pressed for a losing bonus point they were swiftly undone when Cobus Reinach pounced on a loose ball to race the length of the field, with Mallinder’s kick making it 40-18.

Reading Chronicle:

Tommy Bell dabs down for Irish, but it was too little, too late.

Irish did have the last say of the match when Josh McNally powered his way over for third third try which Greig Tonks embellished, but Saints held on for the win.

Kennedy will be looking for a reaction from his players when Irish travel to Newcastle Falcons this Friday night (7.45pm ko).

“We’ve got a short turnaround, but we can still get through a lot of work with the players,” he said.

“We’ll be working on both physical and mental aspects of our game in preparation for Newcastle, and we’ll be looking to put in a much-improved performance.”

London Irish: Bell, Lewington, Tikoirotuma, Williams, Nalaga (Ojo 73), Marshall, McKibbin (Steele 50), Franks (c) (Elrington 62), Porecki (Paice 46), Du Plessis (Hoskins 57), Van der Merwe (Paulo 57), De Chaves, McNally, Gilsenan (Schatz 58) Cowan.

Northampton Saints: Tuala (Foden 58), North, Horne, Burrell (Grayson 62), Collins, Mallinder, Groom (Reinach 58), Waller (Ma’afu 61), Haywood (Marshall 75), Hill (Brookes 54), Paterson, Ribbans (Day 61), Lawes (c), Gibson, Dickinson (Nutley 65).

Referee: Matt Carley.

Attendance: 5,502.