Rugby Union: Saints keep their homely touch

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Northampton 17 Saracens 10

Northampton are rapidly becoming recognised as a bunch of home-loving players and that is worrying them. If they are to challenge for a place in Europe they have to start winning away from Franklins Gardens. To date they have lost all five away league matches.

After watching Saracens waste a deal of possession in a first half they dominated, Mark Evans, their coach, said: "This thing about winning away is still eluding us. It's something that a lot of sides are finding. The top six or seven are struggling to win away from home."

Both Saints and Saracens are chasing a top-four place to book themselves a European campaign and after their seventh home victory in the Courage League, Tim Rodber, the Northampton captain echoed Evans' sentiments as he voiced his concern over his team's chronic homesickness. "The making of a good side is to win away and we haven't done that yet," he said.

That is why Saints' trip to Sale in the league next month holds more significance than next Saturday's Pilkington Cup quarter-final at Franklins Gardens.

For Europe to be a reality both clubs will need to eliminate unnecessary errors. Goodness knows what the watching Lions selector, Derek Quinnell, and England man, John Elliott, thought as they ran the rule over possible tourists to South Africa and Argentina respectively.

Saracens produced so many turnovers - especially when pressing hard for the Saints' line in the first half - they could have opened a cake shop. Evans was also unhappy with the north London side's disturbing propensity to spill the ball at critical moments.

Northampton were loose in defence early on and failed to capitalise on pressure and territorial advantage from the kick-off. The opening half a dozen minutes should have produced a try, which might have settled the issue a lot earlier. As it was all they earned was a penalty - the first of four successful kicks for their England stand-off Paul Grayson.

Saracens came back, skillfully directed by Michael Lynagh. Their gallery of old masters may have high price tags but Philippe Sella left Saints' loose cover in a tangled sprawl as he burst through their ranks at a pace which belied a lengthy career to score a superb try and give Lynagh a comfortable conversion.

Thereafter things deteriorated. Jonathan Bell's injury, described by club officials as a possible popped rib cartilage, which, if correct, would keep him out of the Ireland side to play England on Saturday.

Saracens, meanwhile had not only lost the plot but also their scrum-half Kyran Bracken. It had been his service to Lynagh and the constant threat he posed around the base of the scrum that had contributed much to the Saracen cause. Unfortunately he suffered a leg injury shortly before the interval and after that Saracens in general and Lynagh in particular went off the boil.

As the game moved into the final quarter Ian Hunter, Bell's replacement, powered his way through after Nick Beal had made a fine break down the right and it was all over. Saracens threw everything they had into restoring their lead but Saints were home and dry. All they need now are a few good awaydays.

Northampton: Try Hunter; Penalties Grayson 4. Saracens: Try Sella; Conversion Lynagh; Penalty Lynagh.

Northampton: N Beal; J Bell (I Hunter, h-t), G Townsend, M Allen, H Thorneycroft; P Grayson, B Taylor; M Volland, T Beddow, M Stewart, J Phillips, J Chandler, S Tatupu, B Pountney, T Rodber (capt).

Saracens: A Tunningly; R Wallace, P Sella, S Ravenscroft, M Ebongalame; M Lynagh, K Bracken (P Friel, 37); T Daly, G Botterman, P Wallace, C Yandell, T Copsey, F Pienaar, R Hill, A Diprose (capt).

Referee: G Hughes (Runcorn).