Beal strikes late as Saints give Saracens the runaround

Saracens 28 Northampton 30
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Backed by 14 vocal coachloads of supporters, Northampton sang and danced their way into the last four of the cup. The Saints' three-tries-to-one victory was a deserved reward for their more adventurous, not to say effective, approach from first to last.

A high tackle by Andy Blowers on Kevin Sorrell gave Jannie de Beer a straightforward penalty from the 22 to open the scoring for Saracens in the third minute. De Beer then backed himself to add to the lead from a metre inside his own half, but Burke's law, as ably demonstrated earlier yesterday at Harlequins, did not apply here, and the kick fell well short.

Paul Grayson missed a penalty from 40 metres before De Beer made it 6-0 after 17 minutes. Yet Saracens' lead could not disguise the fact that Northampton always looked the more dangerous with the ball in hand.

England's manager and their backs coach, Clive Woodward and Brian Ashton respectively, had dashed across town from The Stoop for their second spying mission of the day. And North-ampton's in-form hooker Steve Thompson was intent on making their trip worthwhile, continuing his push for at least a bench place against Scotland in a fortnight by finishing off his side's opening try after 22 minutes.

Ben Cohen straightened the line of attack with a sharp run, Peter Jorgensen made further progress, and James Brooks's pass out of a ruck sent Thompson bullocking past Scott Murray's flailing arm to the line. Grayson's conversion nudged Northampton ahead, but Saracens, though unable to match the Saints' pretty patterns, kept on posting the points. De Beer squeezed over a drop goal, and added two more penalties before half-time, with North-ampton's efforts disrupted by a couple of trips to the blood-bin for Blowers, and one to the sin-bin for Craig Moir, for killing the ball.

Indeed, De Beer was ever alert to the possibility of the drop goal, clearly immune to the jitters that the subject induces among Saracens supporters. Two years ago, Northampton won a fifth-round cup tie here when one of De Beer's predecessors at fly-half, Matthew Leek, had a drop goal to win the match in injury time contentiously called wide of the posts.

Moir returned in time for Northampton's first attack of the second half, crucially so, as Saracens edged up offside in the shadow of their own posts, and conceded a penalty try when Tom Shanklin deliberately knocked on. Grayson converted but De Beer's fifth penalty steadied Saracens, whose solitary cup final victory in 1998 at least puts them one ahead of Northampton. Such a record of mutual underachievement suggested this quarter-final was someone's to lose rather than win.

Grayson goaled from long range to make it 18-17, and Northampton beefed up their pack by bringing on the former Springbok lock Johan Ackermann, for his debut. The Saints were frustrated when they scored what looked to be a try by Peter Jorgensen only for the touch judge to rule that John Leslie's over-the-man pass went forward.

No matter. With 15 minutes remaining, more swift and sure passing by Grayson and Cohen put Nick Beal rousingly over at the right-hand corner and Grayson potted a fine conversion.

De Beer landed another penalty but Beal's drop goal gave Northampton the cushion they needed. In the sixth minute of injury time, Gerald Arasa went over at the posts but there was no time for the restart after De Beer's conversion, and Northampton celebrated.

Saracens: A Winnan; T Shanklin (G Arasa, 62), K Sorrell, T Horan, D O'Mahony; J de Beer, K Bracken (capt); D Flatman, R Russell, P Durant (L Harbut, 67), K Roche, S Murray, K Chesney (S Hooper, 62), R Hill, T Roques.

Northampton: N Beal; C Moir, P Jorgensen, J Leslie, B Cohen; P Grayson, J Brooks; T Smith, S Thompson, M Stewart, J Phillips (J Ackermann, 45), O Brouzet, M Soden (G Seely, 55), A Blowers (G Seely, 16-22, 27-35), B Pountney (capt).

Referee: R Maybank (London).