Smith saves error-prone Saracens

Saracens 25 Northampton 20
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The Independent Online

The name may be a common one, but Luke Smith is an uncommonly good kicker, as he proved again for Saracens in a match made more tense by the addition of some six and a half minutes of injury time with Northampton pressing close.

Saints were rewarded for that late pressure with a try under the posts that salvaged a point from a match they had littered with their own mistakes. Countless were the times that scoring opportunities went begging. They got over the Saracens line three times without being awarded a try and too often players got too greedy and went for the line themselves with an unmarked team-mate in acres of space screaming helplessly for the ball.

Considering both sides were without an alarming number of first choice players for reasons of injury or international calls it was remarkable that they contrived to produce such entertaining fare.

Saracens appeared to have opted to play this match in two distinct halves. The first saw them in attacking mode, probing and pushing, always threatening, always exciting and entertaining. After the interval they sat on their lead opting instead to defend it, thus allowing Northampton to come back at them, which they tried to do.

The two goal kickers, Paul Grayson of Northampton and Smith, finished with 100 per cent records. Sadly, Smith, whose 20 points in the match took him to 69 for the season, blotted his copybook by being sent to the sin-bin for killing the ball after the whole team had been warned.

Earlier the Saints prop Kelvin Todd also ended up in the cooler for unsubtle use of the boot. That incident happened in first half injury time, and by then Saracens had regained the lead, originally lost after half an hour to a soft Ben Cohen try, when a close-range scrum was wheeled enough for Saints to exploit the blind side and Grayson converted to add to his opening penalty.

But Saracens had Smith and his long range abilities – one of his penalties was more than 50 metres, the others in the high forties while his drop goal was a 42 metre jolt – to make use of. That all added up to them creating a comfortable cushion, so a scintillating break by the centre Kevin Sorrell that split Northampton wide open and left Darragh O'Mahony with a simple sprint and sprawl over the line, was a bonus as the half drew to a close.

Outside him, in the centre, was Tim Horan, the masterful Australian who directed operations quite brilliantly. When he found Abdel Benazzi with a fabulous inside pass it turned the lumbering second-row giant into a threequarter for 10 dazzling metres, a transformation that should earn Horan the sobriquet of the Conjuror.

Having created so many chances and outscored Saracens by two tries to one, Saints might claim the moral victory, but they were guilty of so many unforced errors, especially in a second half that they were allowed to dominate and that Saracens finished with 14 men, it would be a spurious claim. Ultimately Saracens' early work was the difference between the two teams. Now, with Europe looming, much work remains to be done by both coaching teams.

Saracens: Try O'Mahony; Conversion Smith; Penalties Smith 5; Drop Goal Smith.

Northampton: Tries Cohen, Thompson; Conversions Grayson 2; Penalties Grayson 2.

Saracens: A Winnan; B Sparg, T Horan, K Sorrell, D O'Mahony; L Smith, N Walshe (B Hampson, 64); L Harbut, R Russell (M Cairns, 72), S Phillips (D Flatman, 51), A Benazzi (capt; K Benazzi, 69), K Roche (S Cheesebrough, 55), R Hill, B Cole, T Roques.

Northampton: P Grayson (capt); N Beal, L Martin, M Tucker, B Cohen; A Hepher, D Malone (M Dawson, 59); K Todd, S Thompson, C Budgen, A Newman, J Phillips, A Rennick, G Seely, A Blowers.

Referee: R Dickson (Scotland)

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