Harlequins lost their place at the top of the Aviva Premiership after a shock 27-16 home defeat to Exeter Chiefs.
Quins started brightly and opened the scoring after only six minutes when Jordan Turner-Hall released Ugo Monye for a try converted by Nick Evans.
Three penalties from Gareth Steenson gave Exeter the lead on the half-hour mark, but an Evans strike ensured the hosts turned around 10-9 ahead.
The kicking battle continued after the restart as Ben Botica and Steenson exchanged two penalties each, before the latter’s break set the platform for Damien Welch to cross for the Chiefs’ first try on 68 minutes.
And the visitors sealed a memorable win six minutes later when fullback Luke Arscott gathered a box kick to touch down, Steenson slotting the extras.
Harlequins were replaced at the league’s summit by Saracens, who comfortably dispatched struggling London Welsh 35-14 at Allianz Park.
A brace of penalties from Charlie Hodgson put Saracens 6-0 ahead, but Welsh’s Seb Stegmann bagged the first try when he stepped inside James Short and weaved his way through.
The visitors lost Phil Mackenzie to a yellow card shortly afterwards and Tom Bristow followed him shortly afterwards, the prop dismissed for dragging down a maul and also conceding a penalty try in the process.
Gavin Henson kicked a penalty and a drop goal either side of a Hodgson three-pointer in a three-minute spell before the break as Sarries entered half time with a 16-11 advantage.
Duncan Taylor set up Joel Tomkins for the hosts’ second try on 47 minutes, improved by Hodgson, with Henson clawing back three more points 10 minutes later.
But that was as close as Welsh came as Will Fraser and Strettle went over for tries in the final quarter, Hodgson improving the latter.
Meanwhile, 14-man Gloucester lost ground in the race for a playoff place with a 31-25 loss at local rivals Bath.
Bath opened up a 10-0 lead inside five minutes through a penalty try awarded against Charlie Sharples, who was adjudged to have held back Tom Biggs when attempting to gather a kick and sin-binned for his troubles, and five points from Tom Heathcote’s boot.
Gloucester’s response was swift as Henry Trinder charged down Nick Abendanon’s clearance to touch down, before Freddie Burns converted Jonny May’s try to hand the Cherry and Whites the lead.
The hosts went back in front before the break, however, as Heathcote kicked a penalty before converting Kyle Eastmond’s five-pointer, Rob Cook replying with three points for Gloucester.
Cook kicked two more penalties to Heathcote’s one after the interval, but the game’s decisive moment came on 50 minutes when the visitors’ Darren Dawiduik was red-carded for an alleged spear tackle.
Heathcote then struck his fourth penalty to give Bath a 26-18 lead, with Biggs scampering over five minutes later despite a yellow card for home flanker Carl Fearns.
May grabbed his second try, converted by Cook, with a quarter-of-an-hour remaining to haul Gloucester to within a score, but Bath held firm to maintain their own chase for a top four spot.
Worcester Warriors took another step towards survival with an impressive 29-23 bonus point victory over high-flying London Wasps.
Nicky Robinson put Wasps ahead 6-3 after 15 minutes, with Worcester’s reply coming courtesy of Andy Goode.
Jon Clark set fullback Chris Pennell away for Worcester’s first try, with David Lemi gathering Goode’s chip for a converted second for the hosts nine minutes later.
Wasps started the second half strongly and pulled a score back when T Rhys Thomas tapped a penalty and dived over.
And the visitors went ahead soon after as Ashley Johnson touched down from a driving maul following Josh Drauniniu’s yellow card for a deliberate knock-on, Robinson adding the extras.
Worcester responded immediately with a catch-and-drive of their own as Blair Cowan claimed the points, with Danny Gray’s conversion making the score 22-18 to the Sixways outfit on 62 minutes.
Scrum half Jonny Arr made the game safe for Worcester and sealed the bonus point four minutes from time with a try improved by Gray, Andre Masi having earlier been dispatched to the sin bin for Wasps.
The visitors did manage to grab a losing bonus point, however, when Jack Wallace crossed in the last play of the game.
Matt Smith and Ed Slater grabbed braces of tries as Leicester Tigers consolidated third place by thumping basement side Sale Sharks 48-10 at Welford Road.
Tigers drew first blood with a George Ford penalty in the first minute, but they had to wait for nearly half-an-hour to register their first try through lock Salter, with the former adding the extras.
Nick MacLeod kicked three points for the Sharks, before a penalty try, Slater’s second and seven points from Ford’s boot ensured that the hosts turned around 27-3 to the good with Sale’s Tom Brady in the sin bin.
There was no let-up for the visitors in the second half as Smith grabbed two tries in the space of four minutes, both converted by Ford.
Mathew Tait dived over for Leicester’s sixth try 12 minutes from time, improved again by the impeccable Ford, as Sale lay in disarray.
The beleaguered Sharks did manage a consolation score at the death as Danny Cipriani converted Andy Powell’s five-pointer, but the Salford side remain in grave danger of relegation with the season drawing to a close.
Jamie Elliott bagged a hat-trick as Northampton Saints moved into fourth place with a 40-14 thrashing of struggling London Irish.
The first period was a tense affair that saw Irish lead 9-7 three minutes before the break thanks to three Tom Homer penalties, the hosts hitting back through Elliott’s first try and a Stephen Myler conversion.
Northampton built a 12-point advantage in a devastating three-minute spell either side of half time, however, as Myler converted tries from Samu Manoa and Soane Tonga’uiha.
The Saints extended their lead to 33-9 with quick-fire Gerrit-Jan van Velze and Elliott tries, in addition to another Myler conversion.
Irish clawed a score back when Guy Armitage barrelled over with six minutes remaining, but winger Elliott completed his treble before the final whistle as Ryan Lamb converted.
Image Courtesy: Reggie Suplido from USA (The fabulous Aviva Stadium) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons