Saracens 13 Northampton 27: Saints shake off 'chokers' tag to shock Saracens at their fortress

Northampton produce ferocious first half display to knockout table-toppers Saracens with 27-13 win and head to Twickenham showcase for the first time in their history

Saracens have had the broadest backbone in domestic rugby for the best part of five years now, but there was only one team with a spine in the northern reaches of the capital yesterday. Northampton, so close so often to a showpiece appearance at Twickenham that the term “chronic under-achievers” had been superseded by the more hurtful one of “chokers”, finally showed the best of themselves when it really mattered and in so doing, they sent out the strongest signal that the English game’s pecking order might be about to change.

Even if they fail to beat Leicester, their nearest and not-so-dearest, in 12 days’ time – and judging by events when the two clubs met on derby business last month, it is a little difficult to envisage a Northampton victory – they can rest comfortably, if not entirely easily, in the knowledge that they have broken through on two fronts: by claiming a victory over one of the major contenders for the Premiership title after a long run of failures and, simultaneously, finding their way through the thicket of Premiership semi-final rugby at the fifth attempt.

What is more, they are about to flesh out their excellent squad with some very serious talent indeed.

The Welsh wing George North, the Samoan half-back Kahn Fotuali’i and the England prop Alex Corbisiero are among the most accomplished performers in the sport, and by adding an attack coach as clever as Alex King to their backroom staff, the Saints will be well equipped to maximise this vast potential. Happy days indeed.

Not that Jim Mallinder, their director of rugby, could have been mistaken for a bundle of joy at the halfway stage of yesterday’s contest on the artificial turf of Saracens’ splendid new arena – a pitch on which the home side had not so much as even looked like losing hitherto. “Yes, we were 17 points up at the break,” he said, “but I was thinking about the Heineken Cup final against Leinster in Cardiff in 2011, when we turned round with a similar advantage and ended up losing.

“I didn’t express those thoughts to the players, of course, but I couldn’t get them out of my head until around two minutes from time.”

He need not have worried. Northampton, driven by a cold-eyed fury that all but consumed Saracens in the opening 40 minutes, were in no danger of letting this chance slip away, thanks to that iron spine of theirs.

From full-back to No 8 via the half-back and hooker positions, they outplayed the opposition and, if the contest at No 15 between Ben Foden and Alex Goode was a scrap worthy of the name, the other personal battles were not remotely close.

Stephen Myler missed a couple of early shots at goal but quickly readjusted his radar to land three conversions and a couple of penalties, mostly from angles that might have baffled an Oxbridge geometrist.

By comparison, Owen Farrell was in a rotten place, his passing wayward and his temper fraying by the second. It was a similar story at scrum-half, where the supremely energetic Lee Dickson lorded it over Neil De Kock, and, at hooker, where Dylan Hartley reduced Schalk Brits to his component parts over the course of a performance worthy of Test Lionhood. And then there was Samu Manoa at No 8. His young opponent, Jackson Wray, is still learning his trade and has finished a distant second to the grown-ups on more than one occasion recently, most notably when the World Cup-winning Springbok forward Danie Rossouw set about him on behalf of Toulon earlier this month. But Manoa was no mere child-beater yesterday. The American made a mess of just about everyone who made the mistake of entering his orbit and as a consequence, he was Northampton’s centre of gravity.

“To me, it was his usual performance,” Mallinder said. “We chuckle amongst ourselves when we see awards lists and teams of the season that don’t feature his name.”

You could see his point. If there has been a more complete No 8’s display in European rugby this term, it was  delivered behind closed doors.

Brian Mujati’s opening try from a driving maul; Jamie Elliott’s turnover strike following Manoa’s all-encompassing assault on the unfortunate Chris Ashton; and Myler’s precise penalty, awarded against Farrell for a late tackle – these scores were all registered in a flurry between the 20th and 27th minutes and just about put Northampton out of sight.

Even when Farrell reduced the deficit by six with a couple of penalties in the third quarter, there was no obvious sign that Saracens would find a way out of the forest.

Sure enough, Northampton responded with a short-side, sucker-punch try from the replacement back-rower Gerrit-Jan Van Velze, scored down a channel where Ashton would have been had the England wing not buried himself in a ruck and allowed Dickson to take full advantage of the error of judgement.

By the time Saracens, as frenzied as they were laborious, created a multi-phase try for Duncan Taylor on 64 minutes, the Saints were over the hills and far away.

They looked back only to claim one last three-pointer from Myler, the result of another transgression by the increasingly frazzled Farrell.

The England outside-half will have better days. If Northampton have a better day than this one on 25 May, not even Leicester will prevent them being crowned champions of England.

“It is a massive disappointment,” said Mark McCall, Saracens’ director of rugby. “We gave ourselves a mountain to climb at half-time. Northampton put us under a lot of pressure and we made a lot mistakes.”

 



Saracens:

Try Taylor

Conversion Farrell

Penalties Farrell 2.

 

Northampton:

Tries Mujati, Elliott, Van Velze

Conversions Myler 3

Penalties Myler 2.

Saracens: A Goode; C Ashton, J Tomkins (C Wyles, 59), O Farrell, D Strettle; C Hodgson (D Taylor, 24), N De Kock (R Wigglesworth 46); M Vunipola (R Gill, 65), S Brits (J Smit, 59), M Stevens (C Nieto, 65-78), S Borthwick (capt), A Hargreaves  (M Botha, 69), K Brown, A Saull, J Wray.

Northampton: B Foden; K Pisi, J Wilson, L Burrell (T May, 69), J Elliott; S Myler, L Dickson  (M Roberts, 69); S Tonga’uiha (A Waller, 69), D Hartley (capt), B Mujati (T Mercey 65), C Lawes  (GJ Van Velze, 46), C Day, C Clark (P Dowson, 55), T Wood, S Manoa.

Referee: JP Doyle (London)

BUY RUGBY WORLD CUP TICKETS

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
peopleMathematician John Nash inspired the film Beautiful Mind
News
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
music
Life and Style
fashionFrom bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine