Passionate Saracens heading in the right direction for Wray

Northampton 27 Saracens 28
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The Independent Online

Nigel Wray has been many things to many people over a decade and a half of rugby upheaval: impresario and provocateur, politician and populariser, provider of financial muscle and prophet of economic meltdown. His thinking these days is still largely concerned with the bottom line and how deep that line should be allowed to sink, but he also foresees a realignment of the club game in Europe: essentially, a football-style split between the powerhouses and the rest.

The Saracens chairman has worked tirelessly to ensure that his team are on the right side of that divide when it opens up – that they will be bracketed with Toulouse, Munster and Ospreys rather than Bourgoin, Connacht and Newport Gwent Dragons – and while he has certainly had his failures, he may just be on track this time. Saracens will finish this Premiership season as the strongest of what might loosely be called the "London quartet" and, with a cash-rich board behind them, it is likely they will stay that way for a while.

Wray was full of the joys on Saturday evening, with every justification. He had seen his side inflict upon Northampton their first home Premiership defeat in well over a year, only their second since returning to the top flight in the autumn of 2008, thanks to three fine Saracens tries, two of them things of beauty. Perhaps most importantly, he had watched them man the barricades with a passion that said it all about the players' mindset. Men do not tackle the way Brad Barritt and Jacques Burger did at Franklin's Gardens if they do not believe there is something worth tackling for.

Brendan Venter, their director of rugby, singled out the defensive effort for special praise during an after-match address illuminated as much by gleaming smiles of satisfaction as by its content. (Venter has had his issues with Northampton down the years, so he could be forgiven his joyous embrace of the moment.) What he might also have said is that Saracens have such footballing ability running through the spine of their side – from the brilliant young full-back Alex Goode, through the half-backs Glen Jackson and Neil de Kock, to Schalk Brits at hooker and the exceptional Ernst Joubert at No 8 – that anything is possible from here on in.

They spent an awful lot of time without the ball in the first half, yet Joubert's score in the left corner, lovingly created by Brits and Jackson from an initial thrust by the eye-catching flanker Andy Saull, served notice to Northampton that they might need more than Stephen Myler's penalties to win the game. The home side did manage a five-pointer of sorts when Mouritz Botha's early tackle on Chris Ashton a few metres short of the line was judged sufficiently grievous to merit a penalty try, but Saracens were back in the ascendant early in the second half when Goode picked the most precise of running angles to open up a route to the line for Adam Powell.

Rodd Penney's crunching finish from a scrum turnover five minutes from the end of normal time put them six points ahead, but Joubert's late departure with an ankle injury left them at sixes and sevens defensively, to the extent that Shane Geraghty was able to manufacture a last-ditch touchdown to the right of the sticks for Ben Foden.

Sadly for Saints, though, Geraghty is nowhere near as reliable with the boot as he is with his hands and the replacement outside-half duly missed the rugby equivalent of a five-foot putt, leaving his exasperated director of rugby Jim Mallinder to say: "We can see what a terrific talent he is, but he needs to be knocking over kicks like that."

Geraghty will rise above it, for he has ability in spades. Quite whether he will make his ascent in time for a semi-final against the same opposition in a little under three weeks' time is another matter entirely.

Scorers: Northampton: Tries Penalty try, Foden. Conversion Myler. Penalties Myler 5. Saracens: Tries Joubert, Powell, Penney. Conversions Jackson 2. Penalties Jackson 3.

Northampton: B Foden; C Ashton, J Clarke (J Ansbro, 78), J Downey, B Reihana; S Myler (S Geraghty, 76), L Dickson; S Tonga'uiha, D Hartley (capt), E Murray (B Mujati, 66), I Fernandez Lobbe (N Best, 51), J Kruger, C Lawes, P Dowson, R Wilson (M Easter 74).

Saracens: A Goode; M Tagicakibau, A Powell (K Ratuvou, 68), B Barritt (D Hougaard, 82), R Penney; G Jackson, N De Kock; M Aguero (R Gill, 68), S Brits, P Du Plessis, H Vyvyan, M Botha (T Ryder, 54), J Burger (J Melck, 74), A Saull, E Joubert (capt, E Reynecke, 82).

Referee: C White (Gloucestershire).

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