MATCH REPORT | Saracens Men 45-39 Northampton Saints
Does this team ever know when they are beaten!? Staring down the barrel of a first defeat of the season, Saracens showed their championship credentials to leave a desolate Northampton Saints wondering what on earth had just happened.
Injuries, 50-50 decisions and some eye-watering attacking rugby, this was a match that had it all, as Saracens were left on cloud nine at the final whistle, having completed the latest of late shows.
It was Saracens who got off to the better start, as Alex Goode slotted an easy three points, before the Saints hit back, as hooker Mike Haywood barrelled over from the back of a maul.
Despite a half-break down the wing from Sean Maitland, it was the visitors who were in the ascendency, as Rory Hutchinson fed Fraser Dingwall to power over. Fin Smith converted, as his side opened up a commanding early lead.
Saracens though were not to be deterred, as they hit back with a well-worked score from Sean Maitland, as a searing break from Elliot Daly released the wing in the corner.
Near the half hour mark, the hosts thought that they had hit the front for the first time, as Ben Earl powered through after the side had pounced on an overthrown Saints lineout.
Much to the dismay of the home crowd though, it was chalked off, as Maitland was penalised for taking out a Northampton player.
Things went from bad to worse for Saracens, as Fin Smith slotted a penalty after a late tackle, before Dingwall burst through for his second of the match after a fine break from Smith.
The Saints fly half slotted another penalty shortly before the break to extend the lead to seventeen points, but Maitland would race over after a superb break from Andy Christie to reduce the arrears at the break.
Saracens had lost both loosehead props to failed HIA’s in the first half and suffered another blow early in the second period, as Marco Riccioni had to be helped from the field.
The pressure was building from the Saints and they scored their fourth shortly after, as Dingwall found an outside edge to pounce for his hattrick.
Few would have predicted the remarkable final moments just minutes later, as Northampton flanker Scott-Young released Cornell Skosan to race over and put his side twenty-two points ahead.
The momentum seemed to swing though, as Saints second-row Salakaia-Loto saw yellow for contact to the neck of Theo Dan.
The young hooker continued to impress in this one, as he showed that he is a player for the here and now, as well as the future.
From the resulting penalty, the Saracens pack thought that they had crashed over, only to see the ball held up. However, that did not deter the side, as they went about securing the most stunning of comebacks.
With less than twenty minutes left of the clock, replacement scrum half Gareth Simpson scampered over, after Hugh Tizard and Maitland had combined down the shortside.
It was two tries in as many minutes shortly after, after an incredible break from Earl. The flanker raced through from inside his own half and up to the Saints 22, before an inch-perfect chip through from Goode was collected by Josh Hallett to dot down for his side’s fourth try of the afternoon.
Momentum had well and truly swung now, as Saracens found themselves with a lineout ten metres out from the Northampton line, only for possession to be lost.
The clock was against Saracens now, with little under five minutes remain, but there was still plenty of time for three more crucial moments.
Firstly, Northampton replacement scrum half James saw yellow for contact with the neck, before Earl found himself in space to race over. Goode’s conversion reduced the gap to a solitary point as the game headed towards a quite incredible crescendo.
That game-sealing moment would come with the clock nearing eighty. In a true captain’s knock on the day that England sealed the T20 World Cup, Earl again drove his side forward and up to the Saints 22, feeding Daly who stepped the final defender to dive over, sparking pandemonium in the stands and amongst the subs.
There was still time for the restart though, with Christie rising highest, as his side then wound down the clock, to secure the most dramatic of victories.