Hodgson is on target for Saracens

Saracens 18 Northampton 12

Vicarage Road

The conditions were unsympathetically chilly and grim but some bright minds were at work in this jockeying for position by two of the Premiership's leading lights. Steve Borthwick's champions finished on top with their increasingly dominant pack laying the platform for a perfect kicking display by the returning England fly-half, Charlie Hodgson.

Pre-match rain and a little snow had left puddles on a pitch used by Watford in the Championship the day before at a godforsaken ground Saracens would dearly love to be gone from next season. The cemetery and boarded-up pub just outside might be emblems of how Saracens feel about their base of the last 15 years; they are awaiting the thumbs-up from Westminster – specifically Eric Pickles' Department of Communities and Local Government – to make a new home for themselves by redeveloping the Copthall athletics stadium a few miles south in north London.

These clubs have become the best of enemies in the past two seasons, in which both have reached the top-four play-offs. They are heading that way again, though this fixture had lost some star quality to the Six Nations.

Saracens were lacking the two Farrells – fly-half Owen and his dad Andy, the club's head coach who is on secondment to the national side for the Six Nations – plus Brad Barritt and Mouritz Botha; Dylan Hartley, Lee Dickson, Ben Foden and Chris Ashton were absent Saints.

Additionally, the Northampton forward Courtney Lawes is injured. But Phil Dowson, currently benching for England, was released to start here. And newly available too for a Saracens team who in their weakened state lost back-to-back to Leicester and Worcester in the past fortnight was Hodgson, fit again from the finger injury that let in Farrell junior to wear the No 10 jersey for England.

Northampton began with a shove that made Sarries stand up in the scrum, and a line-out drive trundling an impressive 20 metres to earn two penalties. The fly-half Steve Myler missed the first from 40 metres on the diagonal but potted the second from shorter range. Hodgson's two penalties then nudged Sarries ahead and Myler – though in theory the most capable kicker on view, with an 82 per cent success rate before yesterday – missed a tricky effort similar to his first. He was presented with two more from roughly the same spot near the left touchline.

He put the first to touch but Northampton were driven back in the maul and penalised. The second, in the 36th minute, squeezed in off a post for 6-6, before James Downey lost his footing attempting a steal on his 22 and Hodgson, from in front, had Sarries 9-6 up at the break.

In between, there had been some flying fur around the breakdown and with Alex Goode's cute dabs from the back for Saracens matched by Calum Clark marshalling Saints' line-out, it was claustrophobic stuff as Northampton chased a first league double over their hosts since 2003-04.

The resumption brought a penalty each way in the front rows, who were as concerned about their slithering feet as their binding, but the splat-splat sound of studs going forward was with Sarries as Northampton felt compelled to halt two mauls illegally, allowing Hodgson, making light of both the resuming rain and his own 64 per cent stats in the Premiership, to fairly whack over his fourth and fifth penalties in the third quarter.

Myler's penalty reduced Saracens' lead to 15-9 just before two substitutions of contrasting sentiment. Northampton sent on the England flanker Tom Wood for his first appearance in eight weeks, due to a foot injury, but Sarries lost their Wales prop, Rhys Gill, holding his arm in pain. A different kind of anguish soon afflicted the visitors; what looked like a forward nudge in the scrum went Saracens' way and the 45m distance was no worry to the in-the-groove Hodgson: 18-9.

Borthwick had missed four matches injured but he hardly missed a trick in the set piece on his return. A combination of ever-more insistent scrummaging and Andy Saull's snaffling on the deck snuffed out any possible Saints comeback.

They left six of their bench changes to the last 13 minutes; Ryan Lamb, given five minutes in place of Myler, had two shots from 45m to secure a losing bonus point and the second of them crept over.

Saracens: Penalties: Hodgson 6. Northampton: Penalties: Myler 3, Lamb.

Saracens A Goode; D Taylor, C Wyles, A Powell, J Short; C Hodgson, P Stringer(N de Kock, 50); R Gill (J Smit, 56), S Brits, C Nieto (M Stevens, 50), S Borthwick (capt), G Kruis (H Vyvyan, 50), J Melck, A Saull, E Joubert.

Northampton Saints: P Diggin; V Artemyev, G Pisi, J Downey (T May, 75), S Armstrong; S Myler (R Lamb, 75), M Roberts; S Tonga'uiha (A Waller, 67), A Long (R McMillan, 75), P Doran Jones (T Mercey, 67), S Manoa, C Day, P Dowson (T Wood, 56), C Clark (capt), R Wilson.

Referee D Rose (Devon).

Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
A polar bear’s diet is rich in seal blubber and half of its own body weight is composed of fat
Life and Style
fashion David Beckham fronts adverts for his underwear collection
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson has rejected criticisms of his language, according to BBC director of television Danny Cohen
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Arts and Entertainment
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape