Wood stakes his claim to be England's next captain

Northampton 30 Saracens 8

Franklin's Gardens

Saracens have a really bad day at the office about as often as England have a good one – the Premiership champions had won 19 of their last 20 league matches before coming unstuck here while most of the national team's days just recently have measured a hurricane-force 12 on the Ricky Gervais Scale of Cringing Embarrassment – so when Steve Borthwick, the former red-rose captain, headed towards the team bus after spending his evening on the wrong end of something painful, his dark expression was wholly understandable. Yet his immediate thoughts were focused on country rather than club. "This has been an awful week for English rugby," he said. "Anyone who has England at heart takes no pleasure in what is happening."

Borthwick did not linger: the engine was running and like the rest of his side, he wanted to get the hell out of town and back down the M1 as quickly as humanly possible. But his words spoke volumes. The 32-year-old Cumbrian was badly treated by England – indeed, his demotion from Martin Johnson's elite squad in the summer of 2010 was as craven a piece of selection as any in recent memory – and a lesser man would have allowed himself at least one "serves them bloody well right" smirk during the miserable World Cup campaign and several more during its bitter aftermath. But there is nothing "lesser" about Borthwick. The day he stops caring about red-rose affairs, he will be in a box.

How England could have used his professionalism – his reliability, his application, his serious-mindedness – in New Zealand, for there are precious few senior players capable of bringing those qualities to bear in quite the same way. Although come to think of it, the Northampton flanker Tom Wood is cut from similar cloth, and he was there in All Black country for the duration of the tournament. And would Johnson pick him in his starting line-up? Would he hell.

Unlike Borthwick, who was no different from the other Saracens players in finding this contest unfathomable, Wood played a blinder on Saturday night. He was not alone – there were big performances from his fellow loose forwards Phil Dowson and Roger Wilson, not to mention the energetic scrum-half Lee Dickson and George Pisi, the new back-line addition from Samoa – but given the gravity of England's current situation and the fact that he has been mentioned more than once as a possible successor to the much-maligned Lewis Moody as national captain, the super-fit Midlander was very much the talk of the town.

Wood confessed to his disappointment at spending much of the global tournament on the "surplus to requirements" list – his frustration has, he thinks, fed into his exceptional run of performances at club level – and while he was unwilling to discuss the toxic fall-out from the leaked reports into England's failed World Cup campaign, he made it clear that his ambition remains intact. "I try to set standards in terms of work-rate, in giving 100 per cent for Northampton every time I play," he said. "If things come my way with England, brilliant."

Jim Mallinder, the director of rugby at Franklin's Gardens who may also have a major role to play at Twickenham in the not-so-distant future, went further. "It's all about the rugby with Tom," he said, rather pointedly given some of the reports suggesting that other England players have nothing but pound signs in their eyes and on their minds.

"You only have to see him train during the week: he leads the fitness work, he drives the skill sessions, he's always the first to do contact. I don't want to criticise England selection – I don't know how the players performed or what kind of game plan was in operation. What I do know is that Tom is an outstanding player. I'd want him in my team any day."

Mallinder, linked almost hourly with the England vacancy, said the Rugby Football Union would have to make him an "unbelievable" offer to secure his services – not in terms of the financial package, he hastened to add, but in the way the job was set up. He would be advised not to hold his breath, for the governing body, currently in an advanced state of meltdown, is pretty much the polar opposite to the vibrant Northampton club, which is as expertly run as any in the country.

Certainly, he might wait a very long time at Test level for an evening as satisfying as this, for victory over a Saracens side who have given the Saints no end of grief over the last couple of seasons tasted like nectar. It was not any old victory, either: put bluntly, it was a thumping. The visitors threatened early when Alex Goode worked David Strettle away, but Dickson's try-saving tackle, followed by some heavy scrumming from Northampton, ensured no damage was done and from there on in, there was no doubting the outcome.

In the home side's first serious attack, Dowson twice did brilliantly – firstly in retaining possession after receiving an Emergency Ward 10 pass from Ryan Lamb, then by setting the crucial ruck close to the Saracens line – in creating a ninth-minute try for Dickson, while Pisi stepped Strettle all too easily to score a second before the end of the first quarter. When Dowson touched down from a driving maul shortly before the interval, it seemed that Northampton would score 50.

As it was, they did not even manage a bonus point – a mild disappointment surely, given that they had left themselves 48 minutes to score a fourth try. But Mallinder was not in the mood to allow anything to intrude on his serenity, and no wonder. A spanking victory over the reigning champions and not so much as a whiff of a call to duty from the Twickenham hell-hole? That's just about as perfect as it gets in the current climate.

Scorers: Northampton: Tries Dickson, Pisi, Dowson. Conversions Lamb 3. Penalties Lamb 2. Drop goal Lamb. Saracens: Try Joubert. Penalty Farrell.

Northampton:: B Foden; C Ashton, G Pisi (J Clarke 73), J Downey, J Elliott; R Lamb (S Myler 62), L Dickson (M Roberts 58); S Tonga'uiha (A Waller 58), D Hartley (capt, M Haywood 68), P Doran-Jones (B Mujati 51), C Lawes (S Manoa 62), M Sorenson, P Dowson, T Wood, R Wilson (B Nutley 68).

Saracens:: A Goode; D Strettle (A Powell 51), C Wyles, B Barritt, J Short (D Taylor 76); O Farrell, B Spencer (L Baldwin 64); R Gill (D Carstens 51), J Smit (J George 58), C Nieto (M Stevens h-t), S Borthwick (capt), M Botha (G Kruis 51), K Brown (J Wray 58), J Burger, E Joubert.

Referee: D Pearson (Northumberland).

BUY RUGBY WORLD CUP TICKETS

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks