Match Report | Saracens Men 35 – 46 Northampton Saints
Saracens Men narrowly came out on the wrong side of an entertaining Premiership Cup affair as they went down 35-46 to Northampton Saints at the StoneX Stadium.
The lead was exchanged on six occasions as both sides looked to play on the front foot in sunny North London.
Sarries’ Rotimi Segun and Northampton’s George Hendy both produced sublime solo scores but it was ultimately Hendy and Saints who left with the points.
Following an exchange of kicks in the opening minutes it was Sarries who made the first mistake, allowing an up and under to drop, which presented Northampton the game’s first clear cut opportunity.
They quickly turned that chance into points as James Grayson bundled his way over. The fly-half missed the chance to convert his own try, however, and the score stayed 5-0.
But the response from the hosts was quick and emphatic.
Ben Harris broke into the Northampton 22 and after a few quick phases from right to left Elliott Obatoyinbo delivered a delightful grubber kick which Segun raced onto to restore parity on the scoreline. Manu Vunipola then kicked the extras to give the men in black the lead for the first time.
The chances kept coming at both ends with either side penalised when only metres short of their opponents’ line within the space of a couple of minutes.
The penalty count continued to rise for both sides but it was Northampton who were awarded one within range of the posts. Grayson atoned for his earlier miss from the tee with an impressive long-range strike to restore the visitors lead.
Vunipola then had the opportunity to kick three points of his own but captain Jackson Wray instead opted for the corner.
It proved to be an inspired call as Kapeli Pifeleti dotted down from the back of a maul which saw no fewer than 12 Sarries players driving towards the line. Vunipola again converted from out wide and the hosts extended their lead to 14-8.
It was perhaps fitting for a half that ebbed and flowed throughout that Northampton struck once more before the interval. Scrum-half Tom James danced his way through the defence from the back of a driving maul to score. Grayson’s kick again drifted just wide and so Sarries took a narrow 14-13 lead into half-time.
Saints carried their momentum from the end of the first half into the second. Substitute Ed Prowse had only been on the field a matter of minutes but the prop made an immediate impact with a try as Northampton continued to assert their dominance upfront.
The home side were struggling to establish themselves in the second-half and Josh Gillespie came desperately close to scoring Saints’ fourth, only for the winger to knock forward the loose ball when chasing his own chip kick.
The game looked to be all but over when Saints scored courtesy of a freak incident. Segun attempted to keep a miscued box kick in play, but he inadvertently pushed the ball into the path of Hendy who raced clear from the half-way line to score under the posts.
But two tries in the space of three minutes put Sarries ahead once more. Replacement Brandon Jackson crossed in the corner before Segun scored a wonderful solo try. The winger jinked his way past three Northampton defenders in a run which started inside his own half and saw him cross under the uprights.
But the hard work to restore the lead was undone shortly after as Northampton responded with two efforts of their own in equally quick succession. Francis crossed in the corner and then Hendy again finished from some way out to give Saints a 39-28 lead going into the final 10 minutes.
Ethan Lewis scored to offer the home side hope but a last-minute score from Frankie Sleightholme put the game beyond doubt as the final score read 46-35.
Sarries return to Cup action on Tuesday 29 March when they travel to Wasps. But the immediate focus is a huge league fixture as Bristol Bears travel to Tottenham Hotspur Stadium for The Showdown 2, in association with City Index, next Saturday.