Saracens burst Northampton's bubble
September 23, 2010
Northampton's Ben Foden claims a high ball at a rain-swept Vicarage Road
© Getty Images
Saracens ended Northampton's unbeaten start to the season with a deserved 24-17 victory in their Aviva Premiership clash at a rain-drenched Vicarage Road.
A kicking master class from fly-half Derick Hougaard including seven penalties and a drop goal carried Sarries to their third win of the season and condemned Saints to their first defeat of the campaign. The boot of No.10 Shane Geraghty kept Northampton in touch at the break and they crossed for the only try of the game through winger Paul Diggin late in the second half but were guilty of butchering several chances and were ultimately undone by a lack of discipline and a superior Saracens forward effort.
Saints began the day as the league's only unbeaten team, seeking to recapture the top spot they had lost overnight to London Irish. But they were without England duo Chris Ashton and Courtney Lawes, both rested as part of the agreement between the Premiership clubs and the RFU which ensures Elite Player Squad members are not overplayed.
The wet conditions did little to curb Saracens' attacking intentions early on but it was the Northampton pack which claimed the early honours with a formidable scrum sounding a warning and drawing the first penalty of the game that Geraghty slotted with the help of a post. But the home side's response was swift, with an error from the Saints gifting Hougaard the chance to even things up which he duly took.
But back came Northampton with an impressive forward surge that swallowed up Saracens fullback Chris Wyles. The ball was then turned over and a chip through from Geraghty bounced tantalisingly for an on-rushing Bruce Reihana, but he was unable to collect the slippery ball for what looked like a certain score. However, play was brought back for an earlier penalty that Geraghty slotted to edge his side ahead once more.
A wild pass from the Saints' No.10 on his own 22 put his side under pressure soon after and although his pack came to the rescue, he was at fault again moments later when pulling a relatively simple penalty chance wide of the posts. A long-range drop goal also failed to find its target a minute later before a charge down of a Hougaard clearance caused panic in the Saracens' defence. Saints lock Chris Day led the hunt for the ball but was just beaten to the touch down by Sarries scrum-half Neil de Kock.
Another charge down - this time of a De Kock clearance - had Saracens scrambling under their posts midway through the half and resulted in a Northampton feed at a five metre scrum. The dominant Saints pack drew yet another penalty, with Northampton's Brian Mujati turning the screw on Deon Carstens, and this time Geraghty made no mistake from close range. But a blatant bit of obstruction from flanker Tom Wood at the re-start allowed Hougaard to reduce the arrears once more. And Hougaard's boot then brought his side level with a monster drop goal under advantage, defying the playing conditions.
Saracens continued to grind their way back into the contest with their pack leading the way and the latest penalty against Northampton - with Calum Clark guilty of coming in from the side - saw the flanker sent to the sin-bin and Hougaard deliver his latest place-kicking master class to put his side into the lead. The whistle continued to haunt Saints, with prop Soane Tonga'uiha penalised for wheeling the scrum and Hougaard made them pay further with his fourth penalty.
Geraghty stopped the rot with a penalty from straight in front after Saracens' Brad Barritt was caught offside but it was the home side that went into the break with a narrow advantage.
Saracens wasted little time in extending their lead after the re-start thanks largely to the fact that Northampton allowed the re-start to bounce inside their 22. Sarries piled forward and that pressure drew the latest penalty, with Hougaard making no mistake from straight in front of the uprights.
The introduction of replacement hooker Schalk Brits at the break helped bolster the Saracens forward effort and they continued to dictate up front, with No.8 Ernst Joubert at the heart of proceedings with Barritt amongst those to capitalise. And it was no surprise to see the hosts extend their lead or that Hougaard was again the provider.
A crowd-pleasing driving maul underlined the home side's dominance and they marched into the 22 before the ball was worked wide to winger David Strettle, who ran out of room out wide. Geraghty was the latest to see yellow after he was caught on the wrong side of a ruck in the shadow of his own posts and Hougaard hammered home his side's advantage and took his and Saracens' points tally to 24 points.
Northampton showed signs of life on the hour mark with Tonga'uiha, Reihana and then centre Joe Ansbro taking the game into the Sarries 22 before skipper Dylan Hartley was guilty of a taking the wrong option in ignoring an overlap and backing himself to score. His failure and frustration cost his side not only a near-certain try but yet another penalty.
To their credit, Northampton rallied, with Tonga'uiha driving over from close range but the Television Match Official ruled the ball was lost forward. They were handed another chance with an earlier penalty handing them an attacking scrum but again Saracens slammed the door shut, with Carstens the one singled out for praise from his delighted team-mates.
The setback appeared to inspire the Saints pack, who powered forward, but again their discipline let them down with scrum-half Lee Dickson penalised for excessive use of the boot on Carstens when a cool head would have served his side better.
Northampton refused to throw in the towel and were rewarded for their persistence with the game's only try. Pressure forced a hurried clearance and from the resulting lineout the ball was worked wide through replacement No.10 Myler and then Reihana, whose neat floated pass found Diggin for the simple score. Myler failed to notch the conversion with an ambitious drop goal and his side had to settle for a solitary losing bonus point.
"Gentlemen, if you want to see the World Cup going south yet again, you are going the right way about it," John Taylor looks at the state of European rugby
The Heineken Cup proved once again just why it is the best domestic rugby competition in the world at the weekend and Monday Maul picks out some of the key talking points
The latest Week in Pictures brings you a selection of the best snaps from around the rugby world with scantily clad ladies, O'Driscoll and snow all featuring
"If I miss the first kick of the match, it shouldn't have any impact on the second. They are different entities." Tom Hamilton talks to Northampton Saints' Stephen Myler