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Frustrating afternoon yields no points for Saints

Travis PerkinsSponsored by Travis Perkins

This match was certainly there for the taking, but while there was plenty of promise in attack there was even more frustration in how none of the opportunities created yielded the tries that would have raised the roof and brought home the win.


However while Saints dominated much of the play it was Saracens who got the scoreboard ticking over, firstly with an Owen Farrell penalty which made full use of the stiff breeze at the visitors' backs, and then with a try which came completely against the run of play.


Stephen Myler had already tied things up, rewarding a good attack which had Vasily Artemyev and the Pisi brothers to the fore. And when George and Ken combined again down the right wing the Gardens was in full cheer anticipating more points. However a tracking Saracen snaffled up an inside pass, and when the ball was worked quickly to the other side of the pitch all of a sudden the visitors had men to spare and Joel Tomkins put Alex Goode over for the simple score.


It was a sucker punch that Saints scarcely deserved, but the try was sandwiched by excellent opportunities which the hosts were ruing at the break. The first instance saw a series of pick and drives close to the visitors' line ended when the ball squirted clear. Then there was double the disappointment when firstly Soane Tonga'uiha on the right and then Samu Manoa on the left were both stopped by some desperate defence.


The American had come on as a replacement for Courtney Lawes, with Tom May also replacing Stephen Myler at the same time. There would be more woe at half-time with the withdrawal of Dylan Hartley, but the major talking point of the first half had already been and gone.


All eyes had been on Chris Ashton in the build-up to the winger's return to Franklin's Gardens, and he was the central figure in the incident which had the capacity crowd in uproar. Artemyev had sent a kick up the left-hand touchline when Ashton came in with a shoulder charge which was both late and sent the Russian sprawling into the advertising toblerones.


Referee and assistant consulted, but there was no card, only a penalty, and plenty to talk about during the half-time interval.


Saints may have been unlucky in the first period, but at times they were also their own worst enemies, fumbling the ball or forcing passes at crucial moments which either saw Saracens turn the ball over or push the hosts back tens of metres at a time.


Unfortunately this trend continued after the break. Hartley may have gone off, but you'd have never guessed it when Saints demolished a Saracens scrum to set up a great position in the visitors' 22, power ultimately rewarded by a Ryan Lamb penalty.


But all that hard work was undone at the kick off, when the ball rebounded off a home shirt, Saracens set up camp and Farrell reinstated the seven-point margin.


For every good thing that was done - a lineout won against the throw here, pressure forcing a poor kick there - there was something to negate it. Lamb sending a superb pass to put Artemyev in the clear only for a fumble immediately afterwards to be hacked ahead by Saracens was one example. Another came at a scrum in the visitors' red zone, where despite the power the ball was not controlled and play headed the other way.


And when another back line move broke down on the visitors' 22 and the ball sent upfield it looked for all the world as if Ashton would be adding the score which would end Saints' hopes altogether. Both he and Tomkins were tracking the ball, but the final kick eluded both of the former league men and ended up in Saints hands.


Instead it fell to Farrell to take his team two scores ahead with a 67th-minute penalty, and with the cushion Saracens were able to play without forcing the tempo.


On the other hand nothing was going right for Saints at all. Luther Burrell went on a charge, only to be stripped of the ball in contact. Artemyev lost his footing trying to round some forwards and was penalised for holding on. And there was a sublime chip from Lamb to May, followed by a superbly timed pass to Artemyev. But when the Russian was tackled and laid the ball back instead of Saints retaining possession it was Saracens who hacked 40 metres back upfield.


It summed the afternoon up.


TIMELINE

6mins SAR Pen Farrell 0-3

11mins SAINTS Pen Myler 3-3

25mins SAR Try Goode Con Farrell 3-10

HALF-TIME SAINTS 3 SARACENS 10

43mins SAINTS Pen Lamb 6-10

46mins SAR Pen Farrell 6-13

67mins SAR Pen Farrell 6-16

FULL-TIME SAINTS 6 SARACENS 16