Saracens survive Northampton Saints comeback

Leaders Saracens held off a late comeback from second placed Northampton Saints to win their Aviva Premiership match 28-24 at Allianz Park on Sunday.

Northampton Saints have now slipped to three successive Premiership defeats in the tournament for the first time since November 2012.

Northampton’s only loss away from home in any tournament since October came at Sale in the Premiership on 22nd March.

Tries from David Strettle, Kelly Brown, and Marcelo Bosch gave the league leaders
their 17th win of the season from 19 games, although they were made to work
for it in a tense finish.

The battle between the Premiership’s top two felt like a trial run for the
final at Twickenham in May.

Leicester are typically surging and Bath have shone in patches this season,
but Sarries and the Saints have been better than the rest of the pack consistently
all season long.

Which is why it felt strange that Northampton came into this one on the back
of a rough run of form, success in the Challenge Cup aside.

Hoping that recent losses in the league to Sale and Leicester were mere speedbumps,
the return of Stephen Myler at fly-half was a welcome sight.

Too often the blockbuster fixtures never live up to their billing, but not
this one, at least not until Northampton’s wind was taken out of them by the
large mountain ahead on the scoreboard until their late salvo.

Perhaps that initial stardust was due to the brutal physicality showcased by
the Vunipola brothers, Courtney Lawes and the rest.

In a roaring start both teams found their way to the line, before Saracens
wrapped their hands around the neck of the match and built up a considerable
advantage on the scoreboard before half-time.

Their first try was a gem – the weighted grubber from Owen Farrell bouncing
up perfectly into the path of Strettle to score in their eighth minute. Just
as Saracens’ attacking game has flourished this season, so has the England number
ten.

Northampton’s maul truly is impossible to defend when perfectly unleashed and
only Neil de Kock coming in illegally at the side was enough to prevent a try.
In the eyes of referee Matthew Carney, a try would have been scored if not for
de Kock’s input, and so he duly ran under the sticks.

Saints lead for the first time but it was short-lived, Schalk Brits in a mischievous
mood as he broke free up the middle in an attack that ended with a try for Brown.

Saracens’ offloading and continuity in the build-up to the Scotland captain
diving over was first-rate, one of the better team tries of the season.

Order was restored at 12-10 and from there Saracens turned the screw. Northampton’s
objective to play out of their own half backfired miserably as they conceded
three penalties in their own half, all converted by their hosts.

Argentina centre Marcelo Bosch landed two excellent long-range strikes, the
first with effortless grace from 56 metres, before Farrell – recovered from
a heavy tackle by Lawes – added the third on the half-time whistle to put the
league leaders 21-10 ahead at the interval.

Northampton defied expectations by winning here in last season’s semi-final.
Trailing by 11 points seemed to be a similarly ominous challenge.

Sensibly, Saracens withdrew a battered Farrell and replaced him with Charlie
Hodgson and when Calum Clark infringed trying to stop the home pack, the former
England number ten had a chance to extend his side’s lead, but the penalty fell
away to the left.

Appropriately given he was enjoying his best performance so far in a Saracens
shirt, a pinpoint kick to touch notably standing out, Bosch then found his way
over in the corner to more or less put Saracens out of sight at 28-1

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