Match Report | Saracens Men 42 – 38 Northampton Saints
Saracens Men booked themselves a home semi-final in the Gallagher Premiership after a dramatic 42-38 victory over Northampton Saints at StoneX Stadium.
The Men in Black trailed at half time, but a stunning second half display saw Nick Tompkins, Alex Lewington, Theo McFarland and Alex Goode all cross the line to give them a crucial win which means supporters can look forward to a Premiership last-four clash in North London on Saturday 11th June.
It was the hosts who made the fast start they craved, as Owen Farrell’s penalty from 40 metres out gave his side a 3-0 lead after just two minutes.
Sarries, who had virtually all of the possession in the opening stages then doubled their lead with another Farrell penalty after a spell deep in the 22 forced the Saints to concede another three-pointer.
A huge chance then followed as Nick Tompkins’ brilliant break saw him racing towards the line, but just as he passed outside towards Alex Goode a fumble allowed the visitors to escape.
However from the scrum an enormous shove from the pack earned them a penalty, and then after multiple infringements art the maul the referee gave the Saints their final warning.
The risk paid off for the visitors though as after a long spell of pressure they then turned the ball over and the lead stayed at 6-0.
Saints then created their first opportunity of the match courtesy of a smart 50:22, but a quite sensational spell of defence which went on for over two minutes ended in a turnover to the delight of the home crowd.
As a sign of the frustration that had caused Alex Coles was sent to the sin-bin for Northampton after he denied Goode the chance to take a mark quickly, and then just moments later Lewis Ludlum joined him in the bin for going off his feet at the breakdown.
A golden chance then followed as a huge overlap on the left hand side looked to give them a walk-in, but just at the crucial moment it went forward and once again the Saints survived.
Northampton got themselves on the board five minutes before the break as Dan Biggar dissected the posts, and there was one more opportunity for Sarries when Goode and Aled Davies combined to get within striking distance, but it would be the visitors who had the last laugh right on half time.
A lineout just outside the Sarries 22 gave them some front foot ball, and an inside pass found Tommy Freeman who picked a great line and went racing clear to dive over the whitewash. Biggar’s conversion meant that despite having very little possession the Saints were 10-6 up.
There was still time for one more penalty from Farrell right on half time, meaning his side ran down the tunnel trailing by one point at the break.
As has happened often this season, straight after the break Sarries looked a different side and raced in to the lead almost immediately. A flat pass hit Tompkins at pace and he was never going to be stopped as he powered through from just outside the 22. The extras from Farrell meant the hosts were back with their six point advantage.
It got better just three minutes later as Alex Lewington got in on the act in an incredible spell of attack. Rotimi Segun exploded through a gap and was brought down just short, but then the ball was spun straight to the left wing and Lewington was in acres to dive over in the corner. Farrell’s inch-perfect conversion saw the lead grow to 23-10 just five minutes after the break.
Before the home fans could catch their breath they were celebrating again, with their third try in eight minutes sending StoneX in to delirium. Theo McFarland’s incredible chargedown bounced up to him right over the line, and he somehow managed to gather it using all of his basketball skills to dot down in sensational style. The conversion went just wide, but now McCall’s side had an 18 point lead.
Despite the setback the Saints weren’t rolling over however, and they got back in the match just before the hour mark as Rory Hutchinson went over from close range. A five metre scrum gave them the platform, and then the Scotland centre gathered George Furbank’s offload to score. Biggar’s conversion meant the lead was now down to 11.
McFarland then scored a truly outrageous try to secure the bonus point, with one of the best finishes seen this season. He intercepted from half way and showed unbelievable athleticism to race clear before diving to avoid the flag and somehow dotting down in the corner. Farrell’s excellent conversion which went in off the post reinstated the big lead.
There was more gloss being added to the scoreboard for the hosts who were in irresistible form. Farrell’s grubber fooled the defence and it popped up beautifully for Goode who stepped past the final defender to dive over in style to bring up the 40 point haul.
Northampton hit back with a speculative score from Tom James who ran through from long range with 10 minutes to go, and he then went over again with two minutes to go to ensure that they would leave with a try bonus point.
Matt Proctor scored with the final play to get the Saints’ fifth, however the day belonged to the Men in Black, who celebrated what could well prove to be one of the most important wins of the season.