November 27 2011
Saints hearts were broken less than 8 days ago when the Heineken Cup was all but put beyond them in a home defeat to Llanelli and this match could so easily have been a nail in their premiership coffin as the visiting champions Saracens’ fun bus rolled in to town.
Northampton Saints 30 v 8 Saracens
It was anything but pleasant for the Watford side as a rejuvenated and enlivened Saints had the result of the weekend and Jim Malinder a more pleasing reference for his CV. Equally as important as the first half extravaganza from Northampton was a second half defensive performance that saw the door slammed firmly shut in the visitors faces until in the last move of the match when Joubert scored a consolation try in the corner. It would have been nice to blank the opposition but it wasn’t to be.
Saints looked imperious in a first half performance that rattled through the 40 minutes as if it were a Sevens match, they were captivating, incisive, lithe, decisive, and cute. On 32 minutes the video ref called Saints third and final try - a power house effort from the lineout, in Phil Dowson’s favour and 4th place in the league was confidently reserved. The only faint disappointment was an unsecured bonus point which was turned down by Northampton in the second half when George Pisi’s pass failed to find any one of a whole host of supporting runners.
Pisi though had already secured the good will of the home crowd in the first half with a scintillating break which saw Downey offload from the tackle and the Samoan centre stand up the final defender with a lovely side step and an Ash type splash to follow.
But it was Saints first try for centurion Dickson which was probably the most pleasing. After Saracens had marginally shaded the first five minutes or so they sought to make best use of the blustery autumn evening by hoisting a kick towards Ben Foden. With three chasing Saracens players Foden looked to have little time to do anything with the possession yet remarkably the Northampton fullback broke free of the opposition not once but twice and garnered the ten or twelve meters required to put the home side on the front foot.
There was more than just Foden’s break to warm the local cockles as the Northampton support play (so woeful last week) fulfilled its potential in maintaining the momentum. Sorenson who had an outstanding game found himself in wide open pastures and set the throttle to full. Saracens who struggled throughout the first half to slow Northampton at the breakdown found themselves at the bottom of the slope and Dickson exposed Nieto, Burger and a gap big enough for a bus station yet alone a bus.
The determination in the starting XV and pleasingly the bench was there for all to see and when Northampton hit their stride the game becomes so much more attractive.
Dickson was the heartbeat to which the team responded, Lamb’s distribution and management at ten does seem to offer an extra dimension and his confidently taken drop goal was a handy barometer of his current form. He is currently hitting his penalties with such sweetness that a blind man could take pleasure from the contact he is making with the ball.
The back row were outstanding, Wood the skilful surgeon operating on the tiniest of margins, Wilson the do or die protagonist who flat footed the Saracens defence on numerous occasions from No8 and Dowson who’s experience puts him exactly in the right place at precisely the right time. Brown, Joubert and Burger were second best on the evening.
The Champions were never going to lie down and after such a free flowing first half the visitors were always likely to mount a riposte and by committing more to the breakdown they slowed Saints possession and secured more of their own.
The second half became a tackle fest and yet no less pleasing in some respects. Whilst Saints were more profligate with their possession Saracens did little with it, Northampton were up to the challenge and stood toe to toe with their opponents who do sometimes look as if they are painting by numbers.
The luxury of exchanging players with twenty minutes to go is a less than familiar experience in these parts and the same opportunities might not be afforded next week at Welford road, but Northampton can only be strengthened by this experience. Observers will now be looking for that elusive consistency that turns a fine team in to title challengers.
Roger Wilson says:
Four if you want, Sarge - your boys beat us in the final of a national U18s tournament down in OAs in August...
We'll have to give in soon...