Planet Rugby

Saracens squeeze past the Saints

13th April 2014 16:00

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RUGBYU SARACENS SARACENS V NORTHAMPTON KELLY BROWN PA

Top team try: Kelly Brown

Saracens kept their impressive momentum rolling on ahead of the playoffs with a 28-24 win over Northampton Saints at Allianz Park.

Tries from David Strettle, Kelly Brown, and Marcelo Bosch gave the league leaders their 17th win of the season from 19 games, although they were made to work for it in a tense finish.

The battle between the Premiership's top two felt like a trial run for the final at Twickenham in May.

Leicester are typically surging and Bath have shone in patches this season, but Sarries and the Saints have been better than the rest of the pack consistently all season long.

Which is why it felt strange that Northampton came into this one on the back of a rough run of form, success in the Challenge Cup aside.

Hoping that recent losses in the league to Sale and Leicester were mere speedbumps, the return of Stephen Myler at fly-half was a welcome sight.

Too often the blockbuster fixtures never live up to their billing, but not this one, at least not until Northampton's wind was taken out of them by the large mountain ahead on the scoreboard until their late salvo.

Perhaps that initial stardust was due to the brutal physicality showcased by the Vunipola brothers, Courtney Lawes and the rest.

In a roaring start both teams found their way to the line, before Saracens wrapped their hands around the neck of the match and built up a considerable advantage on the scoreboard before half-time.

Their first try was a gem - the weighted grubber from Owen Farrell bouncing up perfectly into the path of Strettle to score in their eighth minute. Just as Saracens' attacking game has flourished this season, so has the England number ten.

Northampton's maul truly is impossible to defend when perfectly unleashed and only Neil de Kock coming in illegally at the side was enough to prevent a try. In the eyes of referee Matthew Carney, a try would have been scored if not for de Kock's input, and so he duly ran under the sticks.

Saints lead for the first time but it was short-lived, Schalk Brits in a mischievous mood as he broke free up the middle in an attack that ended with a try for Brown.

Saracens' offloading and continuity in the build-up to the Scotland captain diving over was first-rate, one of the better team tries of the season.

Order was restored at 12-10 and from there Saracens turned the screw. Northampton's objective to play out of their own half backfired miserably as they conceded three penalties in their own half, all converted by their hosts.

Argentina centre Marcelo Bosch landed two excellent long-range strikes, the first with effortless grace from 56 metres, before Farrell - recovered from a heavy tackle by Lawes - added the third on the half-time whistle to put the league leaders 21-10 ahead at the interval.

Northampton defied expectations by winning here in last season's semi-final. Trailing by 11 points seemed to be a similarly ominous challenge.

Sensibly, Saracens withdrew a battered Farrell and replaced him with Charlie Hodgson and when Calum Clark infringed trying to stop the home pack, the former England number ten had a chance to extend his side's lead, but the penalty fell away to the left.

Appropriately given he was enjoying his best performance so far in a Saracens shirt, a pinpoint kick to touch notably standing out, Bosch then found his way over in the corner to more or less put Saracens out of sight at 28-10.

For all of their strike runners and talent, Northampton just couldn't get going.

They at least had a numerical advantage for the final ten minutes as Matt Stevens departed for the bin, a losing bonus point no doubt on the mind with the Tigers behind them in third place.

There was a breakthrough from England centre Luther Burrell, reaching out to score with the try given after consultation from the TMO.

A dash of spice was added to the final five minutes when George North bundled his way over in the opposite corner. The losing bonus point was in range, but could they go one better and win it?

A Saracens infringement and kick to the corner gave Northampton the platform, but the scrum fell Saracens way, the following penalty seeing Richard Wigglesworth kick to safety for a win that in the end was far narrower than seemed possible ten minutes beforehand.

It means Northampton still have work to do to secure their home semi-final spot, with their form sliding away. Saracens meanwhile continue to shine.

The scorers:

For Saracens:
Tries: Ashton, Brown, Bosch
Cons: Farrell 2
Pens: Bosch 2, Farrell
Yellow Card: Stevens

For Northampton:
Tries: Penalty Try, Burrell, North
Cons: Myler 3
Pen: Myler

Saracens: 15 Chris Wyles, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 David Strettle, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Neil de Kock, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Kelly Brown, 6 Jackson Wray, 5 Mouritz Botha, 4 Steve Borthwick (c), 3 James Johnston, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Mako Vunipola
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Richard Barrington, 18 Matt Stevens, 19 Eoin Sheriff, 20 Jacques Burger, 21 Richard Wigglesworth, 22 Charlie Hodgson, 23 Tim Streather

Northampton: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Jamie Elliott, 13 George Pisi, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 George North, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Lee Dickson, 8 Samu Manoa, 7 Tom Wood, 6 Calum Clark, 5 Christian Day, 4 Courtney Lawes, 3 Salesi Ma'afu, 2 Ross McMillan, 1 Alex Waller
Replacements: 16 Mike Haywood, 17 Ethan Waller, 18 Gareth Denman, 19 Sam Dickinson, 20 Phil Dowson, 21 Kahn Fotuali'i, 22 Will Hooley, 23 James Wilson

Referee: Matthew Carney
Assistant Referees: Peter Huckle, Andy Watson
TMO: Rowan Kitt

by Ben Coles

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PosTeamPPts
1Saracens418
2Northampton416
3Bath415
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5Wasps411