Saracens edge out Northampton at Wembley
Graham Jenkins reports from Wembley Stadium
September 12, 2009
Saracens Noah Cato races away to score against Northampton Saints during their clash at Wembley Stadium
© Getty Images
Saracens made it two wins from two in this season's Guinness Premiership with a nail-biting 19-16 victory over Northampton Saints at Wembley Stadium.
A length-of-the-field try from winger Noah Cato and 14 points from the boot of fly-half Glen Jackson carried the 'home' side to victory in the first ever Premiership clash staged at the iconic London venue in front of a raucous record crowd for a Saracens home game of 44,832 fans.
Northampton produced a battling second-half display, having trailed 16-3, with centre Jon Clarke crossing for a try and fly-half Shane Geraghty kicking 11 points. But they were denied victory when a late try from prop Soane Tonga'uiha was ruled out by the Television Match Official.
Saracens boss Brendan Venter named the same side that accounted for London Irish in their season-opener at Twickenham last weekend while Northampton boss Jim Mallinder was stripped of the services of fly-half Stephen Myler with an ankle strain.
Early pressure from Northampton provided Geraghty with the game's first scoring chance, Saracens guilty of not rolling away from a ruck. The Saints' No.10 pulled his effort wide of the mark. Jackson too had his troubles finding his range and saw an early drop goal attempt charged down before pushing a good penalty chance past the posts.
Some excellent defensive work and a lack of an incisive edge combined to limit scoring chances but Jackson eventually broke the deadlock midway through the half with a drop goal. The hosts' lead was short-lived as Geraghty found the target with one of his own two minutes later.
Saracens rallied and when hooker Schalk Brits was body-checked by Northampton flanker Scott Gray it gifted Jackson the chance to restore his side's lead. Venter's men turned the screw and looked to have cause for complaint when impressive fullback Alex Goode was seemingly obstructed by Northampton winger Paul Diggin.
Play was waved on only for Saints lock Juandre Kruger to be penalised for knocking the ball out of play under pressure from Sarries speedster Noah Cato. Jackson made no mistake with the resulting penalty to extend his side's advantage.
Northampton struggled to counter and Geraghty would pull another drop goal attempt well wide of the posts before the sides headed to the tunnel.
The visitors looked lively from the re-start but their eagerness would prove their downfall. Geraghty looked to conjure a move down the shortside but his captain Dylan Hartley was unable to take the pass cleanly under pressure from Cato who scooped up the loose ball up on his own 22 before racing away to score. Jackson slotted the extras to take his side out to a 16-3 lead.
Saints responded almost immediately with Geraghty and Gray making big gains into Saracens' 22 before the ball found Phil Dowson, who drew the tacklers superbly and offloaded to Jon Clarke. The centre crossed unopposed. Geraghty also rediscovered his touch with the conversion attempt.
The tit-for-tat scoring exchange looked like it might continue just a minute later when Saracens surged into the Northampton 22 but on this occasion winger Chris Wyles was denied by some desperate defence that eventually led to a missed penalty by Jackson.
The Kiwi-born stand-off did however find the target with an effort from the half-way mark that earned him a round of applause from his coach in the stands. But Venter would not have been so happy with the offside penalty gifted to Saints moments later that allowed Geraghty to close the gap to six points.
Sarries were guilty of straying offside again as the game entered the final quarter and there was no hesitation from Geraghty in pointing to the posts. His successful kick brought Saints to within three points and in sight of a famous comeback win.
And when Sarries hooker Schalk Brits was sent to the sin-bin for a blatant offside offence Geraghty had the chance to pull his side level but instead he pulled the kick wide of the mark.
Saracens appeared to take heart from the reprieve but they were soon on the back foot again. Despite dominating territory and possession, Northampton lacked the final pass needed to unlock a resolute Saracens defence.
They looked to have crashed Saracens' party when prop Soane Tonga'uiha burrowed his way over for what looked to be the match-winning score just two minutes from time but after a lengthy delay the Tongan was ruled to have lost the ball forward in the scoring motion, much to the delight of the home crowd.
There was still time for Northampton to muster one more attack but Saracens were equal to the task and held on for a narrow win.
Despite a slow start the game just about lived up to the spectacle promised by the pre-match hype and there was more than enough evidence on and off the pitch to ensure that everyone will look forward to a return to the stadium which is set to be confirmed for later this season.
Speaking after the game, Northampton director of rugby Jim Mallinder was convinced his side had been robbed of victory by the TMO.
"I thought it was a try and that Soane got the ball down just for an instant," said Mallinder. "It was long enough to get over the line but it was then pulled away.
"I've got over the decision now - I've hit the wall and done all that sort of business. It was a massive decision but you have to be philosophical. It's happened, we've lost and we have one point.
Saracens director of rugby Brendan Venter felt the right call was made and instead turned his attention towards the 68th minute sin-binning of Schalk Brits.
"I looked at the replay and said it's not a try boys, prepare for the scrum," said Venter. "The yellow card came with 15 minutes to go and in my opinion that's not the way rugby is played.
"A scrum-half can't deliberately throw the ball into Schalk, put his hands in the air and say he was guilty of lazy running. That wasn't lazy running, we don't practice or talk about that. I looked at the incident after the match."
"The most exciting games of recent years have been in European competition; let's not destroy it. " Tom May on the Heineken Cup and why it means so much to the players
After Sam Egerton became the first person to be red carded in the Varsity match, Scrum Sevens looks at other high-profile dismissals at Twickenham
Tom Hamilton pays a visit to Oxford University Women's Rugby Football Club who have recently made headlines across the world, from Tokyo to New York