Sarries delight in semi-final triumph
May 16, 2010
Saracens' Schalk Brits stretches the Northampton defence at Welford Road © Getty Images
Try hero Schalk Brits described Saracens' gripping Guinness Premiership play-off victory over Northampton as the toughest game of his career.
Hooker Brits' injury-time touchdown, converted by fly-half Glen Jackson, gave Saracens a 21-19 victory at Franklin's Gardens and sent them to their first Premiership final. It ended a run of six successive semi-final defeats in all competitions during the past four seasons.
Brits and Saracens rugby director Brendan Venter face Rugby Football Union disciplinary hearings in London on Tuesday following alleged incidents during the win at Leicester eight days ago. But nothing could detract from a brilliant performance which broke Northampton hearts and left Saracens one win away from a first domestic title.
"It was so physical - the toughest game I have played in during my career," said South African Brits. "But there is something special happening at Saracens. It is a special group of players who are all mates, and we enjoy what we are doing. It has been a great season, but we are not the finished product, and it is an amazing feeling being in the final."
Brits struck deep into injury-time - there were barely three minutes left on the countdown clock - when he was driven over Northampton's line by his fellow forwards. The score required video referee ratification before Jackson, who leaves Saracens this summer to become a professional referee in his native New Zealand, struck the match-winning kick.
"We all looked at the clock, and there were about three minutes left," added Brits. "We didn't want to be left wondering about what might happen, so the boys gave it their all, but that was a very tough game."
Northampton then tried desperately to engineer a position for their fly-half Stephen Myler to land a drop-goal in the closing seconds, yet it proved beyond them. "I would have thought they would have gone for the drop-goal, but we were fortunate they didn't," admitted Brits.
Venter hailed the courage of his players, who also conjured tries for outstanding full-back Alex Goode and wing Chris Wyles, while Saints replied with touchdowns from props Soane Tonga'uiha and Brian Mujati, plus three Myler penalties. Saracens' last three away games have seen them triumph at Leicester - Tigers' first home loss for 20 months - and Northampton twice.
"It was a great game of rugby," said Venter. "This is just a magnificent day for Saracens. The margins between winning and losing are so small, and there is no doubt we could have lost that game." Venter also paid tribute to Goode - overlooked for England's tour to Australia and New Zealand next month - who played with a broken thumb.
"It's incredible he played with that injury," added Venter. "He could have come off at half-time, but he carried on, and I thought he was brilliant for us. We knew that we had to stop Northampton behind the gain-line, and the guys tackled their hearts out - they have unbelievable character. We have a five-year plan here - if you chop and change things too much you won't be successful - and I thought we just played some great rugby out there."
While Saracens celebrated arguably the greatest day in their history, Northampton were left to painfully reflect on what might have been.
"It is frustrating and disappointing," said Saints rugby director Jim Mallinder, whose team finished second after the 22-game regular league season. "Indiscipline cost us - the penalties and free-kicks we conceded cost us field position. And we should have got our drop-goal shot in at the end, without a doubt.
"It was a tight semi-final with opportunities for both sides, but it just wasn't our day. Everyone is gutted, naturally. Last season we finished eighth and won the European Challenge Cup, this season we finished second and won the LV= Cup, so we are making good progress."