The Saints put in one of their best performances of the season to come away from Allianz Park with a win over the reigning Aviva Premiership champions.
Back in November Saracens had spoiled Saints’ party at a newly-expanded Franklin’s Gardens by putting on a professional display to head south with the points, but at Allianz Park Lee Dickson’s men turned the tables by dominating for the majority of the game, even if this was not necessarily shown on the scoreboard.
The game plan was clearly evident from pre-match, Dickson winning the toss and opting to play into the strong north-south wind that is the hallmark of the north London venue. With the wind in their faces Saints then kept the ball in hand, regularly working their way through phase after phase and create some good positions deep inside Saracens territory.
However it took over half-an-hour for them to get the reward their efforts deserved. For while there were handling errors that spoiled several attacks, time and again this was in no small part to Saracens having rediscovered their defensive mojo which had been missing against both Wasps and Sale.
Their line speed was impressive, the tackling physical, and when the opportunities came to keep the scoreboard ticking over Ben Spencer made Saints pay, landing two quick-fire penalties to build up a six-point lead.
The hosts had barely been in the Saints’ half, such was the visitors’ statistical dominance, but their lead was brought about by Saracens’ hallmark play of hassling a team into mistakes and then taking the points when they were on offer.
Spencer was not just a key man from the kicking tee, however, and his kicking from hand and general distribution was at the heart of Saracens’ play. So when he was sin binned for deliberately killing a Saints attack close to his own line his absence for 10 minutes looked to be crucial.
And so it proved, Jamie Gibson collecting Jamie Gibson’s charge-down of an attempted Alex Goode clearance kick to set up the position from which Stephen Myler weaved his way to the whitewash. Myler converted his own effort to put Saints into the lead, but when Goode quickly shrugged off the mistake to slot a penalty just before half-time Saracens had not only seen off the sin bin period relatively unscathed but also took the lead into the break.
It lasted barely two minutes.
With both defences on top this had become a match in which mistakes were going to be key, and Jim Hamilton will no doubt be rueing his misjudgement of Myler’s restart that handed Saints an outstanding position immediately.
Saints won the lineout, and then a second after a penalty had been kicked to the corner, and as they rumbled through phase after phase to the line Dickson saw a gap and dived over for the try.
It was his fifth in four games, and gave Saints a lead that they never looked like relinquishing. And had Ben Foden not dropped the ball over the line in the visitors’ next attack the ultimate winning margin would likely have been even more comfortable.
What was infuriating from the visitors’ perspective was that Foden had done everything right. Put into the clear down the left wing by a lovely combination of passing from Luther Burrell and Ken Pisi, Foden saw the covering tackler and dived through the air to take the touchline out of consideration.
Unfortunately gravity had other ideas, the ball slipping from the full back’s grasp inches above the line for the score to be ruled out.
Having had a massive let-off, Saracens established some good possession and position themselves, Spencer landing his third penalty of the day. But at no point did they threaten the line, and with Myler sandwiching a Goode effort with two three-pointers of his own - the kickers between them landing all nine shots at the uprights - Saints kept Saracens at arm’s length for the remainder of the contest.
SARACENS Goode; Ellery, Taylor, Barritt (capt), Wyles; Mordt, Spencer; Barrington, George, du Plessis, Smith, Hamilton, Rhodes, Brown, Wray
Subs - Saunders, Thompson-Stringer, Figallo, Low, Burger, de Kock, Bosch, Earle
SAINTS Foden; K Pisi, G Pisi, Burrell, Collins; Myler, Dickson (capt); A Waller, Haywood, Brookes, Lawes, Matfield, Gibson, Wood, Harrison
Subs - Marshall, E Waller, Hill, Craig, Dickinson, Kessell, Hanrahan, Mallinder
REFEREE Thomas Foley
16mins SAR Pen Spencer 3-0
29mins SAR Pen Spencer 6-0
32mins SAR Yellow card Spencer
34mins SAINTS Try Myler Con Myler 6-7
37mins SAR Pen Goode 9-7
HALF-TIME SARACENS 9 SAINTS 7
42mins SAINTS Try Dickson Con Myler 9-14
52mins SAR Pen Spencer 12-14
63mins SAINTS Pen Myler 9-17
71mins SAR Pen Goode 15-17
76mins SAINTS Pen Myler 15-20
FULL-TIME SARACENS 15 SAINTS 20