If England seek an example of how quickly fortunes can turn, then Northampton provided one in the Aviva Premiership last night. After a fortnight of European rugby they would rather forget, they took on the champion club - who had won 19 of their previous twenty Premiership games - and gave them the worst drubbing they have suffered for many a day.
With a wonderful display of accuracy and opportunism, Northampton scored three first-half tries and did much to eradicate the desperate perception of English rugby which exists after the negativity of the past week. Saracens played their part and the game demonstrated the domestic game's best qualities, in which both sides looked for a game of width and skill.
Inevitably, the gaping holes in the England fabric remain an issue: the name of Jim Mallinder (pictured), Northampton's director of rugby, will continue to be linked to the England coaching job while Tom Wood, man of the match against Saracens, is a live candidate to be the next captain.
Mallinder, far more comfortable talking about his players than his own prospects, emphasised the leadership skills that Wood produces every day for Northampton: "I don't want to criticise England selection... but what I do know is that Tom for us is an outstanding rugby player and I would want him in my team any day," he said.
As for the vacant England coaching role, Mallinder says it would be an honour to be offered the chance but that no such offer had been made: "At some stage in my career I would love to coach England," he said. "It would have to be an unbelievable offer for me to leave what we have here." Nor was he talking about money, rather about the terms and conditions of the job.
Northampton's success carried them to fourth place in the table, reminding a packed house of last season's charge to the Heineken Cup final, and ended the run of five Premiership wins by Saracens in this fixture. Here, though, they hit the buffers against a Northampton team driven by the tempo of Lee Dickson's game at scrum-half and the tactical nous of Ryan Lamb, his half-back partner.
Dickson, in his 100th game for the club, scored the first of his side's three tries. Lamb played with his head up and looked a far better prospect than Owen Farrell, his opposite number. Farrell had one of those days when his line kicking lacked accuracy and when his passing only seemed to provide Northampton with opportunities to test their aggressive defence, meat and drink to a voracious home back row.
Ben Foden created the first try, running powerfully before George Pisi weighed in twice on the left and Dickson finished. Pisi enjoyed himself at centre, never more so than when James Downey off-loaded wonderfully well in the tackle, giving Pisi time and space to step round David Strettle and outstrip the cover for the second try.
The third came when Phil Dowson was driven over from a close-range line-out and, with Lamb adding a drop-goal to his three conversions, the bonus-point try in the second half seemed inevitable. But Saracens tightened their game, dominated territory, leaving Ernst Joubert to have the last word with a try.
Northampton B Foden; C Ashton, G Pisi (J Clarke, 73), J Downey, J Elliott; R Lamb (S Myler, 63), L Dickson (M Roberts, 59); S Tonga'uiha (A Waller, 59), D Hartley (captain; M Haywood, 68), P Doran-Jones (B Mujati, 52), C Lawes (S Manoa, 63), M Sorenson, P Dowson, R Wilson (B Nutley, 68), T Wood.
Saracens A Goode; D Strettle (A Powell, 52), C Wyles, B Barritt, J Short (D Taylor, 77); O Farrell, B Spencer (L Baldwin, 64); R Gill (D Carstens, 52), J Smit (J George, 59), C Nieto (M Stevens, 41), S Borthwick (captain), M Botha (G Kruis, 52), K Brown (J Wray, 59), E Joubert, J Burger.
Referee D Pearson (Northumberland).
Tries: Dickson, Pisi, Downton
Cons: Lamb 3
Pens: Lamb 2
Drop goal: Lamb
Pen: FarrellReuse content