Hartley's dangerous play causes England concern

Saracens 33 Northampton 19
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The Independent Online

If, as expected, Steve Borthwick is named as England captain today he may well find himself in charge of a Red Rose squad in the middle of a hooker crisis. Borthwick was one of the driving forces behind Saracens' opening win in the EDF Energy Cup at Vicarage Road yesterday, during which Saints hooker Dylan Hartley was guilty of an act of dangerous play, which he could well be cited for.

With Bath's Lee Mears suffering a rib injury on Friday evening, it presents manager Martin Johnson and his captain with a ticklish problem in the specialist front row role.

The incident came in the final quarter with Northampton still chasing hard for victory, or at least a losing bonus point. Saracens' scrum-half Moses Rauluni ran down the narrow side at a ruck to get to the ball. Hartley stuck out an arm and caught Rauluni head high.

Hartley, who last season served a six-month ban for gouging, was not sent off, merely conceding a penalty leaving the way open of a citing.

Saracens' director of rugby Eddie Jones said: "When you take the head of the player, away from the ball, it's a serious misdemeanour. I thought the play was dangerous. I hope the citing commissioner has a bit of a look at it. "He [Hartley] lacks discipline. He has tended to have a record off the ball, I am not happy with it."

But Jones was more than happy with the performance of his side, a mix of young and old. He singled out Borthwick for his coolness and clarity under pressure, but also praised left wing Noah Cato, who once more displayed his blossoming talent. Despite being sin-binned for taking out Saints' troublesome scrum-half Lee Dickson, he scored a belting try to get the Saracens ball rolling.

Saints took full advantage of Cato's sojourn in the sin bin, twice scoring tries by attacking down the right – his vacant left wing. Northampton's first try resulted from a neat passing exchange between Ben Foden and right wing Chris Ashton before the former crossed the line.

The second try, with Saracens still down to 14 men, owed everything to a superb chip across to the right by fly-half Stephen Myler. The ball was gathered by Saints' No 8 Roger Wilson, who beat a path to the line.

But by this time Saracens, who had looked more threatening up to then, had already scored two tries themselves, Rauluni revealing how dangerous his sniping runs are. The first try was rather special, underlining as it did the finishing power of Cato. He evaded two tackles by Dickson and Ben Foden to muscle his way over for the touchdown.

With fly-half Gordon Ross landing half a dozen penalties, a conversion and a drop goal, it was more than enough to keep at bay the marauding Saints, for whom Myler kicked three penalties.

Saracens: Tries: Cato, Rauluni. Conversion: Ross. Penalties: Ross 6. Drop goal: Ross. Northampton: Tries: Foden, Wilson. Penalties: Myler 3.

Saracens: A Goode; F Leonelli, A Powell, A Farrell (capt), N Cato; G Ross, M Rauluni; N Lloyd, M Cairns, C Visagie (T Mercey, 55), S Borthwick, K Chesney (T Ryder, 73), D Barrell, A Saull, B Skirving (D Seymour, 50).

Northampton: B Foden; C Ashton, C Mayor (J Ansbro, 73), N Mordt (C Spencer, 69), P Diggin; S Myler, L Dickson (A Dickens, 78); S Tonga'uiha, P Shields (D Hartley, 66), B Stewart (E Murray, 56), M Lord (capt), C Day (I Fernandez-Lobbe, 78), C Lawes, B Lewitt (S Gray, 66), R Wilson.

Referee: M Fox (Leicestershire)