The significance of this thunderous win by Northampton can be assessed in future weeks. On the face of it, nothing has changed at the head of the Aviva Premiership – Saracens remain first and Northampton second, but the manner in which the Saints dismantled their visitors makes a nonsense of their relative positions.
It is four years and more since Saracens shipped so many points. For over an hour their scrum struggled desperately for survival, their line-out – normally so reliable – was uncertain and they could not cope with the dimension that has been added to Northampton’s game this season, much of it the result of Alex King’s arrival from France as attack coach.
Five of their six tries came from their spritely backs, though the best was scored by the game’s outstanding forward, Samu Manoa. Two of those tries fell to Ben Foden, not required as a full-back by England but issuing here as deafening a challenge to Mike Brown of Harlequins for the national job as he was able; to do so on a day when he was opposed by another England player, Alex Goode, spoke volumes.
“I think Ben should be involved with England’s 23 [against Australia next Saturday],” said Jim Mallinder, Saints’ director of rugby
Northampton’s was a team display par excellence in the absence of their England squad members. The injured captain, Dylan Hartley, could only look on with pride as Saracens, who were defeated for the first time this season against Toulouse last weekend, lost their unbeaten Premiership record, and if two tries in the final quarter displayed character, they did nothing to disturb Northampton’s dominance.
Even though half their pack was with England, Northampton destroyed the opposing forwards with their driving maul and gave Kahn Fotuali’i a wonderful platform for his first home start. The speed of his pass allowed Stephen Myler to pull the strings while outside him Luther Burrell (left), itching to demonstrate that he, too, should not have been sent home by England, threw himself as energetically into defence as attack.
After an exchange of penalties, Northampton’s forwards and backs combined for the first try, scored by Jamie Elliott but made by Manoa, Fotuali’i, Alex Waller and Sam Dickinson. There were try-saving tackles at both ends while the best finish came from Manoa. A long run by Burrell earned Northampton a foothold in the opposing 22 and though Fotuali’i’s pass went to ground, Manoa picked up, slipped a tackle and sent Goode scudding the wrong way with a languid dummy before the American lock scored.
Foden’s two tries in the third quarter killed off any lingering Saracens hopes. The first stemmed from a long driving maul and a break by George Pisi; the second when Saracens missed a clearance to touch and Myler stabbed through a grub-kick which Foden reached first. That assured the bonus point that leaves Northampton one behind Saracens in the table, and though Duncan Taylor and Kelly Brown worked their way over to put a gloss on the scoreline for the visitors, Northampton were able to score in response through Burrell and Ken Pisi.
Mark McCall, the Saracens director of rugby, denied there had been any hangover from the European loss to Toulouse eight days earlier. “Our performance last week was of a high standard, here we were beaten in every area,” he said .
Northampton: B Foden (J Wilson, 66); K Pisi, G Pisi, L Burrell (D Waldouck, 66), J Elliott (R Glynn, 74); S Myler, K Fotuali’i; A Waller (E Waller, 62), M Haywood (R McMillan, 74), S Ma’afu (G Denman, 58), S Manoa (B Nutley, 66), C Day, C Clark, P Dowson (captain), S Dickinson (G J van Velze, 41).
Saracens: A Goode; M Tagicakibau (M Bosch, 53), C Wyles, D Taylor, D Strettle; N Mordt (B Ransom, 65), R Wigglesworth (N de Kock, 53); R Barrington (N Auterac, 65), S Brits (J George, 53), M Stevens (J Johnston, 53), S Borthwick (captain), A Hargreaves (M Botha, 53), K Brown, J Burger (J Wray, 58), E Joubert.
Referee: T Wigglesworth (Yorkshire).