Eye in the sky saves Venter's adventurers on big day out

Saracens 19 Northampton 16: National stadium proves half full for Premiership's eternal optimists as video referee comes to rescue
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The Independent Online

A second home match for Saracens in nomadic mode, and a second win: their forthright head coach, Brendan Venter, was relieved and delighted in equal measure, and so must be the club's very wealthy backers from South Africa. Venter is trying to build a winning team – a "tribe", as he calls it – while Sarries, not for the first time in their chequered professional history, are creating a brand.

After last weekend's narrow squeak against London Irish at Twickenham, the crusade pitched tent at Wembley with measurable success. A crowd of half the 90,000 capacity were lured by the novelty and the reasonably priced tickets. They had to endure a lot of slow stuff at the breakdown but there was a rousing finish in which Northampton had a potentially match-clinching try by Soane Tonga'uiha chalked off by the television match official. The huge prop was ruled to have knocked on as he drove over the line.

Northampton's coach, Jim Mallinder, was convinced the score should have stood. Venter accused Saints' scrum-half, Lee Dickson, of "a con" by aiming a pass at a retreating Schalk Brits and suckering the Sarries hooker into the sin-bin. Saracens' chief executive, Ed Griffiths, was busy wondering how many extra fans may turn up to what might be called the first proper home match of the season, against Gloucester at Vicarage Road in Watford in a fortnight. Yes, there was plenty to talk about down Wembley Way.

Contrary to some claims, this was not the first club rugby union occasion here. Who could forget the Charrington International festival of September 1979? Not Saracens, surely – they defeated Blackheath, Blackrock College and Liverpool in a curious one-day affair of 20-minute, 15-a-side matches. Then again, the spit and sawdust amateur Sarries of 30 years ago have changed, just a bit. Two of their modern-day directors, the former Springbok captains Francois Pienaar and Morne du Plessis, were present yesterday and there could be further fixtures here, with South Africa in November and Harlequins in April. The chairman, Nigel Wray, has predicted filling Wembley within three years. A word of caution: Stade Français's exemplary efforts at Stade de France have seen Paris get behind one club. Saracens, to adapt the words of their Right Said Fred-sung anthem, are standing up for themselves.

The dance troupe Diversity threw some smart pre-match moves, but it was safety-first rugby to begin with. Northampton kept the ball through 17 phases before Shane Geraghty dropped a goal from 26 metres to equalise a similar effort by Glen Jackson. The Saints' bullish young captain, Dylan Hartley, had chosen to scrummage rather than kick for position early in the piece. But Saracens created the more threatening positions, and penalty goals by Jackson after 28 and 30 minutes had them 9-3 up at the break. Northampton were fortunate not to be a man down by then, after two cases of obstruction and a ball deliberately batted dead.

The second half brought a transformation. From being the kind of match where you could indulge idly in misty memories of Bobby Moore, Scott Gibbs or even Mick the Miller, suddenly you couldn't take your eyes off it. Saracens forced Geraghty into a bullet pass which bounced off Hartley and allowed the wing Noah Cato to race 80 metres for a try which Jackson converted. Geraghty made amends with two sharp passes in the move leading to Jon Clarke's try at the corner. Geraghty converted before a monstrous penalty by Jackson had Sarries 19-10 up. Geraghty kicked two penalties at closer range, long after he had missed a sitter, in the eighth minute.

The flanker Wikus van Heerden – one of five South Africans in the Saracens starting line-up – withdrew for the final quarter, having tackled everyone that moved, and a few who could hardly move after he'd tackled them. Saints threw on Courtney Lawes and Neil Best, two forwards from the ticking-bomb shelf of the arsenal. In the 68th minute, Brits got his second yellow card in his first two Premiership matches but Geraghty, from wide out, missed the penalty. Saints got nowhere from a penalty kick to touch, nor from Tonga'uiha's strong-arm late show.

Saracens: A Goode; N Cato, K Ratuvou (R Haughton, 51-57), B Barritt, C Wyles (Haughton, 71); G Jackson (D Hougaard, 65), N de Kock (J Marshall, 74); R Gill (T Mercey, 51), S Brits, C Nieto (R Skuse, 64), S Borthwick (capt), H Vyvyan (M Botha, 51), W van Heerden (M Owen, 57; F Ongaro 73-77), E Joubert, A Saull.

Northampton: B Foden; P Diggin, J Clarke, J Downey, B Reihana; S Geraghty, L Dickson; S Tonga'uiha, D Hartley (capt), S Bonorino (B Mujati, 51), I Fernandez Lobbe (C Lawes, 51), J Kruger, P Dowson, R Wilson, S Gray (N Best, 60).

Referee: A Small (London).

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