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).

footballHe started just four months ago
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
(L-R) Amanda Peet as Tina Morris, Melanie Lynskey as Michelle Pierson, Abby Ryder Fortson as Sophie Pierson, Mark Duplass as Brett Pierson and Steve Zissis as Alex Pappas in Togetherness
TV First US networks like HBO shook up drama - now it's comedy's turn
Pool with a view: the mMarina Bay Sands in Singapore
travel From Haiti and Alaska to Namibia and Iceland
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

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect