The psychological fallout will take a while to settle, up to and possibly beyond these sides' rematch in the Premiership semi-finals in three weeks' time. Saracens' win improved their chances of staging that tie on their own turf rather than back here. Northampton will be telling themselves that to lose a first home match of the season under these circumstances – a blow to their pride, but not fatally harmful to their title hopes – was forgivable. Shane Geraghty may not be so sanguine when he wakes this morning, if indeed he has slept, after missing the late conversion which would have rendered much of the above very different.
Northampton's custom is to swap fly-halves in the second half; yesterday they made the change – Geraghty for Steve Myler – with 10 minutes to play and after the shock of Saracens turning them over at a scrum and scoring at the corner through Rodd Penney. It went unconverted by Glen Jackson but Saracens led 28-22.
As was the way of an entertaining contest, which emphasised the new freedom for the tackled player's team to retain possession, Northampton were soon up the other end. Ironically it was Geraghty's brave touchline kick and clever close-quarter handling which led to Ben Foden slam-dunking a try that was greeted rapturously by a sell-out crowd. That left the right-footed Geraghty a kick from the 22, on a shallow angle to the right of the posts – and right of the posts was where it went. Jim Mallinder, the Northampton director of rugby, said: "At this level he needs to be knocking those over." Myler had kicked six goals out of seven attempts.
Northampton had also substituted their tighthead prop, Euan Murray, after 65 minutes, which may have been a factor in the scrum against the head for Penney's try. Mallinder's Saracens counterpart, Brendan Venter, and Northampton have history from the latter's London Irish days; more recently Saracens were publicly scathing of Saints' part in the prop Soane Tonga'uiha changing his mind about switching from one club to the other. Venter was one happy South African last night, calling the referee Chris White "brilliant" in a beatific assessment which included his side's defence. Mallinder said: "Our players are certainly hurting from hearing Saracens celebrate as if they've won the league." Ouch.
Saracens' chief executive, Ed Griffiths, had accused Northampton of "demeaning the integrity of the game" and showing "complete contempt for legality and justice" over Tonga'uiha. After a little boardroom chat, it had settled down to what Northampton's chairman, Keith Barwell, called in yesterday's programme notes "a little kerfuffle". Saracens double-tackled the 22-stone Tongan from the off.
Three penalties by Myler to a try from Ernst Joubert, converted by Jackson, had Northampton 9-7 up after 20 minutes. Saracens raised the hackles of Dylan Hartley, which are never far from bolt upright anyway, but Jackson's penalty followed by Myler's only miss did not distract Saints from their best spell. Having been denied a try near the posts by what looked like a tackle off the ball, they punished a similar crime in the 33rd minute when Chris Ashton was about to gobble up his 16th Premiership try of the season, one short of the record, only to be mauled by Mouritz Botha like a lion feeding on a gazelle. Botha went to the sin-bin; the penalty try was converted by Myler for 16-10.
A Jackson penalty started the second half and Saracens had a change of approach which could not have been more obvious if they had left their red jerseys in the changing room and come out in Hawaiian shirts. Intent on leaving a strong impression for the rematch, they forced Northampton to scramble hard and often. After Myler kicked a penalty for 19-13, the restart was run back for Jacques Burger to raid the right corner and Jackson, Brad Barritt and Alex Goode to make a try on the left for Adam Powell. It was converted by Jackson.
Myler's fifth penalty came on the hour, when Saracens broke apart at a scrum. A Jackson penalty put Sarries in front again, 23-22. Bruce Reihana was held out by Goode and Michael Tagicakibau, then Ashton overdid a chip; it was more like a three-wood. Then a Burger chip (a kick, not a menu option) had Foden in a spin, only for Andy Saull to have a rush of blood to the head and fluff a huge overlap.
But it turned out well enough when Saull attacked from the turned-over scrum and Penney dotted down at the left flag. All told, the lead changed hands seven times – just one fewer than poor Geraghty would have liked.
Northampton Saints: B Foden; C Ashton, J Clarke (J Ansbro, 72), J Downey, B Reihana; S Myler (S Geraghty, 70), L Dickson; S Tonga'uiha, D Hartley (capt), E Murray (B Mujati, 65), I Fernandez Lobbe (N Best, 52), J Kruger, C Lawes, R Wilson (M Easter, 70), P Dowson.
Saracens: A Goode; M Tagicakibau, A Powell (K Ratuvou, 66), B Barritt (D Hougaard, 75), R Penney; G Jackson, N de Kock; M Aguero (R Gill, 66), S Brits (E Reynecke, 75), P du Plessis, H Vyvyan, M Botha (T Ryder, 54), J Burger (J Melck, 69), E Joubert (capt), A Saull.
Referee: C White (Gloucestershire).Reuse content