Penaud leaves Saints without a prayer

Saracens 34 Northampton 7
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Saracens 34

Northampton 7

THIS WAS the proverbial game of one half. Saracens cruised merrily along at a point a minute for most of the opening period at Watford yesterday and in so doing disappeared from view long before the Vicarage Road catering staff set about filling the kettle for the interval cuppas. Northampton managed to square the second 40 but might as well not have bothered, for nothing could save them from a serious dressing down in the dressing room.

On paper, at least, the visitors had recruited better than most during the vacation. Pat Lam, Federico Mendez, David Dantiacq are serious acquisitions in anyone's currency and the feeling in the Midlands was that Ian McGeechan had finally put together a squad capable of something more tangible than gratuitous flattery.

So much for the theory. When push came to shove - and Saracens can shove their collective weight and then some - it was the cup holders' summer signings who took to the Premiership stage as to the manner born. Troy Coker, that angel-faced World Cup-winning Wallaby of indeterminate age, produced a blind-side flanker's performance of such combative quality that Francois Pienaar was scarcely missed. And then there were Alain Penaud and Jeremy Thomson, the new Lynagh-Sella double act in midfield. Michael who? Philippe what? These boys can play too, you know.

Penaud, full of dark Gallic menace, introduced himself to his latest audience with three searing left-footed touch-finders before charging down Paul Grayson's lackadaisical clearance to claim the opening try on 13 minutes. Seven minutes later he loped dangerously into the Northampton 22 before finding Coker with a scoring pass. It was like picking field mushrooms back home in Brive.

All this occurred while Craig Yandell, the formidably built Saracens lock, was kicking his elongated heels in the sin-bin, a new disciplinary experiment that has all the glittering future of the Sinclair C5. Yandell had been on the field all of four minutes and had done nothing more heinous than pull down Richard Metcalfe at the front of a line-out. Metcalfe being the best part of seven feet tall, it would have been rude not to.

In the event, Saracens could have lost three-quarters of their team to the bin and still scored at will. In Thomson and, especially, his South African countryman Gavin Johnson, the Londoners possessed play-making thoroughbreds of a very high calibre indeed and there was no one in the Saints' back division, not even Dantiacq, who looked to be plying his trade on the same planet. Both Boks would make it on to the scoresheet, Johnson finishing with an impeccable haul of 16 points.

There was nothing impeccable about Northampton, although they came out fighting after the break and played a full and forthright role in a fiery 50th-minute punch-up.

Clive Woodward, the England coach, will have been anything but thrilled by Grayson, Matt Dawson or Tim Rodber, although Dawson slipped away for a solo try to complete the scoring 16 minutes from time. "We played like schoolboys in the first half," admitted McGeechan. Presumably, he meant pupils from a non-rugby establishment.

Saracens: Tries: Penaud, Coker, Thomson, Johnson; Conversions: Johnson 4; Penalties: Johnson 2. Northampton: Try: Dawson; Conversion: Grayson.

Saracens: G Johnson; B Daniel, J Thomson, S Ravenscroft, M Singer (R Wallace, 78); A Penaud, K Bracken; R Grau, G Chuter (G Botterman, 73), P Wallace (B Reidy, 62), C Yandell, D Grewcock, T Coker (B Cole, 62), A Diprose (capt), R Hill.

Northampton: N Beal; C Moir, D Dantiacq, A Northey, B Cohen; P Grayson (A Hepher, 65), M Dawson; G Pagel, F Mendez (C Johnson, 70), M Hynes, J Phillips, R Metcalfe, P Lam, T Rodber (capt), A Pountney.

Referee: B Campsall (Yorkshire).