A second-half hat-trick from Tom Collins helped Northampton Saints edge out Barbarian F.C. 45-39 in a thoroughly entertaining exhibition match at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens.
It was the first time in history that Saints have played the Barbarians, with the game scheduled in place of the cancelled Gallagher Premiership match against Worcester Warriors.
But the game opened up after half-time with Collins crossing the whitewash three times to see Saints home – while Northampton legends Tom Wood and Luther Burrell were given a fitting send-off on their final appearances at the Gardens, with the former given a guard of honour and the latter crossing for a very popular try on 57 minutes.
Saints started on the front foot, sending an early penalty towards the corner before Braley sniped over to the right of the posts, with fly-half Fin Smith converting well from out wide.
The BaaBaas were keen to play some entertaining rugby, running out from deep, and responded with a try four minutes later as Gareth Simpson collected a grubber to score in the corner to the delight of his teammates – who celebrated with a rendition of the Macarena in front of the cinch Stand while Danny Cipriani converted the score.
Northampton sparked into life with 21 minutes on the clock as, with advantage being played from a scrum penalty inside their own half, the hosts spun the ball to Collins who darted through a gap and found Hutchinson on his shoulder to score.
Smith hit the post with the conversion but was in the thick of the action again moments later as his cross-field kick found Collins, whose grubber in turn towards Courtnall Skosan was ushered into touch by Marland Yarde.
Collins was unleashed again moments later, forcing a five-metre scrum with another grubber kick following a break down the left, as Olly Robinson carried the ball over his own line – and that territory finally yielded a try for the host when Ludlam stepped around Elliott Stooke to extend the advantage.
Smith was this time on target with the conversion to make it 19-7, but for the remainder of the half the Barbarians were in the ascendancy.
After Burrell came close to latching onto a Cipraini chip over the top, the visitors did close the gap as Zach Kibirige hacked on a loose ball before collecting and racing into the corner – carrying on his run into the stands to celebrate with the fans.
And they brought it back to a two-point game on the stroke of half-time after Cipriani sent a penalty into the corner, and as players piled into the maul, Burrell burst off the side to offload to Kibirige for his second of the afternoon.
On 46 minutes, Collins crossed for his first try after Sam Graham’s carry made ground, and patient phase play under the posts created the space for George Furbank (on at fly-half for Smith) to set up the wing for a run-in.
Skosan got in on the act six minutes later, as Juarno Augustus and Graham combined down the left before the latter offloaded to the South Africa international for Saints’ fifth try.
At 33-17, the BaaBaas did not shrink from the challenge and provided a very popular score at the Gardens for former Saint Burrell on 57 minutes, as he was sent down the short side by Simpson and exchanged passes with Francois Hougaard before dotting down in front of a jubilant Barwell Stand.
Owen Williams’ conversion was good, but seconds later, the BaaBaas dropped the kick-off straight to Collins – who took full advantage to score his second of the game.
The game had now really opened up, and the scores came thick and fast as Hougaard collected a fizzing Williams pass to cross the whitewash, before replacement hooker Tevita Ikanivere scored an uncharacteristic Barbarians maul try to bring the visitors back within four points.
With just under ten minutes remaining, Collins gave Saints some breathing room when Northampton neatly worked the ball wide for the winger to round off his hat-trick, but Simpson ensured it would be an exciting finish with his second try to make it a one-score contest.
And while the Barbarians could not muster a match-winning score, the crowd were treated to two more poignant moments before the full-time whistle sounded as both Burrell and Wood were given standing ovations when they left the field.
Next up for Saints is a trip to Gloucester next Saturday afternoon in the Gallagher Premiership, before this year’s European campaign gets underway.
SAINTS: Ramm, Collins, Proctor, Hutchinson, Skosan, F Smith, Braley; A Waller, Haywood, Hill, Salakaia-Loto, Lockett, Scott-Young, Ludlam (c), Augustus.
Replacements: R Smith, Iyogun, Prowse, Moon, Nansen, Graham, Wilkins, Hinkley, Mitchell, Furbank, J Matavesi, Litchfield, Hendy.
BARBARIANS: Holmes, Kibirige, Burrell, Williams, Yarde, Cipriani, Simpson; McCallum, Elliot, Br Harris, Kitchener, Stooke, Morris, Robinson, Wood (c).
Replacements: Ikanivere, Be Harris, Millar-Mills, Ashley, Boyde, Hougaard, Hingano, Humphreys.