Saracens knock out the champions

Date published: May 23 2015

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Five penalties from Owen Farrell and a monumental forwards effort saw Saracens knock out defending Premiership champions Northampton 29-24 at Franklin's Gardens.

Saracens may have ignored any talk of revenge in the build-up after last year's Premiership final agony, but this will have tasted sweet.

Few sides really outmuscle Northampton, especially at the Gardens, but Saracens' eight-man wrecking ball did the business both at scrum-time and in defence to set up a brutal, but joyous win.

Farrell's season has been blighted by injury but he was nearly perfect off the boot, landing seven from eight with great consistency as Andy Farrell and Graham Rowntree watched on.

Saracens started sharper – David Strettle celebrating his inclusion in England's 50-man World Cup squad with the opening try, latching on to the end of a kick ahead as Northampton were caught somewhat napping at the back.

The visitors dominated the opening exchanges with the champions trying to find their feet.

Northampton's success has come thanks to the emergence of their forward pack as the best unit in the land, so it was no surprise to see them create some points upfront with a penalty try after England prop Mako Vunipola had already been sent to the bin.

Saracens buckled under the pressure near their own line to raucous approval from the Franklin's Gardens faithful.

Even they approved however when Jacques Burger landed a huge trademark tackle on Ken Pisi, with the Namibian turning out on his 100th appearance for Sarries.

Myler and Farrell traded penalties as the monster hits continued to come but it was Saracens who looked as though they would go into the interval in the lead.

A massive attacking surge however from Northampton tested their visitors' defence to the limit, with Myler eventually adding a second penalty to make it 13-13 at half-time.

Myler's third penalty had Northampton in front for the first time but the Saracens forwards were eager to respond to Northampton's earlier score and did so off the back of their rolling maul.

Jamie George, who has enjoyed an outstanding campaign with Schalk Brits absent through injury, was the man in possession in the middle of their rolling maul as Saracens drove over from close range to make it 16-20 with Farrell's conversion.

Losing the experience of Alex Corbisiero in the first half started to make a dent on Northampton's scrum, with Saracens fully in the ascendancy, but the home crowd did everything in their power to lift the reigning champions when they needed it most.

Farrell though had other ideas, a fifth successful kick creating another three points as Northampton went behind by seven after 53 minutes.

Basic drops from Ken Pisi and Billy Vunipola revealed the pressure both sides were under as Northampton ended up with a kickable penalty, opting to go for the corner rather than trying for the three points. Instead they took five.

Tom Wood, who scored such a crucial try in last year's semi-final against Leicester, was the man to touch down after another excellent rolling maul which Saracens just couldn't find a way to stop. Myler though crucially couldn't add the conversion.

That Saracens pack had another say by winning the next penalty at the scrum, converted by Farrell to make it 21-26, but by coming back to the rolling maul Northampton always had the potential to score more points.

But their bodies were tired. Time was increasingly ticking in favour of Saracens with their five-point lead and management of the reset scrums – Gareth Denman in particular for Northampton falling foul of the referee Greg Garner.

Saints grew increasingly loose as they desperately sought a breakthrough in defence and territory but Saracens were too streetwise, Billy Vunipola getting over the ball at the breakdown to win a crucial penalty.

Farrell once more delivered, putting Northampton nine points clear with seemingly too little time left for Northampton to make a comeback.

Myler did respond with three points but with the clock over 80 minutes only a long-range wonder try would save them, and it wasn't to be.

Saracens won the arm wrestle. They will be going to Twickenham to try and win the title.

The scorers:

For Northampton:

Tries: Penalty Try, Wood

Cons: Myler 

Pens: Myler 4

For Saracens:

Tries: Strettle, George

Cons: Farrell 2

Pens: Farrell 5

Yellow Card: M Vunipola

Northampton: 15 Ahsee Tuala, 14 Ken Pisi, 13 George Pisi, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 Jamie Elliott, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Lee Dickson, 8 Samu Manoa, 7 Calum Clark, 6 Tom Wood, 5 Christian Day, 4 Courtney Lawes, 3 Salesi Ma'afu, 2 Dylan Hartley (c), 1 Alex Corbisiero
Replacements: 16 Mike Haywood, 17 Alex Waller, 18 Gareth Denman, 19 Sam Dickinson, 20 Jon Fisher, 21 Kahn Fotuali'i, 22 Tom Stephenson, 23 James Wilson

Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Chris Wyles, 13 Duncan Taylor, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 David Strettle, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Jacques Burger, 6 Maro Itoje, 5 George Kruis, 4 Al Hargreaves (c), 3 Petrus du Plessis, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola
Replacements: 16 Schalk Brits, 17 Richard Barrington, 18 Juan Figallo, 19 Jim Hamilton, 20 Jackson Wray, 21 Neil de Kock, 22 Charlie Hodgson, 23 Chris Ashton

Referee: Greg Garner
Assistant Referees: Luke Pearce, Matthew Carley
TMO: Sean Davey

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