Northampton 6-16 Saracens, Aviva Premiership
Saracens too good for Northampton
October 27, 2012
Alex Goode was Saracens' try-scoring hero
Alex Goode scored the only try of the match as Saracens returned from their trip to Franklin's Gardens with a 16-6 win over Northampton, the Saints' first home defeat of the season.
Owen Farrell converted the try and also added two penalties. Northampton were unable to find a way through Saracens' tight defence and could only score two penalties, one from Stephen Myler and one from Ryan Lamb.
There was a worrying start for the Northampton front row as they lost their own scrum on their 22. But Dylan Hartley made up for it by getting over Brad Barritt to win a penalty on his try-line after opposite number Schalk Brits looked to have set up a try when he offloaded five metres out.
Nevertheless, with the help of a strong wind Farrell put Saracens 3-0 in front with a penalty from the halfway line after eight minutes.
Some good work on the right wing from the Pisi brothers got the home side into the Saracens 22 and a shot at the posts. George Pisi flicked a pass out of the back of his hand to brother Ken who nipped past a tackler before Saints won a penalty at a ruck and Myler, once again playing at full-back with Ben Foden and James Wilson injured, made it 3-3.
After 20 minutes the home crowd were given their first chance to lay into Northampton old boy Chris Ashton after he took out Vasily Artemyev as the Russian kicked the ball. Ashton left Franklin's Gardens under a cloud of controversy last season and the Saints fans were chanting 'Off, off, off...' when he tried to tackle Artemyev football-style, getting some of the ball, but mostly the man with his shoulder.
Lee Dickson gave his former team-mate a shove in the chest and referee Andrew Small gave Ashton a talking-to, but he stayed on the pitch. For the rest of the game boos followed Ashton around.
Saints went close to a try after a lovely big miss-pass from Lamb set Myler free, but Lamb's early-game obsession with the grubber kick again saw a promising attack ended.
The Pisi brothers looked dangerous for Saints but when Ken gave the ball away Saracens counter-attacked to score the game's opening try after 26 minutes.
Brits nipped on the outside of Soane Tonga'uiha to send Joel Tomkins free on the right wing and his inside pass sent Goode over. Farrell converted and Saints were forced to take Lawes and Myler off with injuries.
Lawes' replacement Samu Manoa was bundled into touch two metres short, but Saracens looked the better side at the break with a 10-3 lead.
Saints came out for the second half without captain Hartley, but the pack still turned over a Saracens scrum and the resulting attack earned them a penalty for Lamb, now kicking in swirling rain, to trim the lead to 10-6.
Farrell quickly replied in kind after Saracens had opened up a hole for David Strettle to run through. Brian Mujati came off the bench to instantly drive new England boy Mako Vunipola up and win a penalty. It led to some extreme pressure but again the Saracens defence held firm.
Ashton looked certain to score against his old club as he hacked on a loose Lamb pass on halfway, but just two metres out his final kick skewed left and Saints were able to dive on the ball and recover.
Yet Saracens were winning the important battle at the ruck, and their suffocating defence earned them another penalty for Farrell to make it 16-6 with 12 minutes to go.
Tom May looked to have sent Artemyev clear on the left touchline 40 metres out in the dying minutes, but Charlie Hodgson was on hand to haul him down well short.
Northampton's director of rugby Jim Mallinder was left to rue his side's performance with the ball and without it.
"It was disappointing to concede that try when we were in attack," he said. "We got turned over and they scored a cracking counter-attack, but I was confident we would turn it round in the second half."
Saracens defence and forwards coach Paul Gustard was delighted with his side's performance as they inflicted a first home defeat of the season on Saints.
"We pride ourselves on the defence," he said. "It is an easy way to demonstrate the unity of the squad. When things get tough we can rely on having a friend to the left and to the right to fight for each other and get that turnover when we need it. The scramble defence from Charlie Hodgson, somebody who was vilified while he was at Sale for not being a good defender, I think he has come to Saracens to show what a good player he is and what a good defender he is."
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