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Match Report: Northampton Saints 41 – 30 Saracens

Scintillating Northampton Saints lit up cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens to extend their five-month unbeaten home run and secure maximum points against defending Gallagher Premiership champions, Saracens.

Saints stormed into a big first-half lead through Alex Coles and James Ramm tries and three successful Fin Smith kicks, that were countered by a Theo McFarland try and five points from the boot of Owen Farrell. 

A try-filled second half saw Ramm and Ben Earl exchange efforts before Tommy Freeman and Ollie Sleightholme both crossed to pull Saints clear, only for Alex Lewington to collect a late double to pull the final score closer and earn the defending champions a try-scoring bonus point.

FIRST HALF

Saints boss Phil Dowson called for a reaction from his side following the previous week’s loss to Bristol Bears, and before a capacity crowd, his players acted upon those words with a blistering opening 12-minute spell as they opened a 17-point lead.

It was the returning Freeman that stomped his way into enemy territory before Tom Pearson and Burger Odendaal punched further holes, pushing Saracens on the back foot and freeing Smith to put Coles in through a gaping hole for his fourth try of the 23/24 campaign – the lock’s most prolific of six seasons as a Saintsman.

That team effort was followed by a moment of individual brilliance from Sleightholme. From a standing start and 45 metres out, the winger cut infield and smashed and danced his way around six would-be tacklers. Lewington did land a successful hit a few metres from the line, but the offload was good for Ramm to cross close to the left post.

Smith converted again before adding a penalty to open a three-score lead that was immediately cut as Tom James’ box-kick attempt was charged down by McFarland to snatch a try against the run of play that Farrell converted before adding a penalty 15 minutes before the break.

Saracens finished the half with momentum in their possession  but could not close the gap further as they were met by a wall of Black, Green and Gold resolutely defending their own line.

SECOND HALF

Farrell’s penalty a few minutes after the restart temporarily cut the deficit only for Saints to respond with the verve and adventure that have been the hallmarks of their season so far.

It started with Odendaal’s offload from a daring run of the ball from deep and was backed up by hard carries as the attack seemed to stall on the 22, only for a moment of brilliance between Smith and the onrushing Ramm saw the Australian race in for his second try of the afternoon. Smith converted and then struck a penalty to put Saints 14 points ahead with half-an-hour remaining.

Lightning unfortunately struck twice for the hosts as Saracens snatched a second try from a charged-down kick, this time it was Earl who blocked Ramm’s effort to gather and cross, as Farrell’s extras got his side within a converted try of pulling level.

As the hour-mark approached, a key moment arrived as Lewington was sinbinned for a deliberate knock on that denied a swarming Saints overlap from cashing in. At the very next opportunity, the try they threatened arrived as Smith teased the drifting defence and fed Freeman to race home for the bonus-point sealing score.

Any nervous tension that was air was dispersed when a formidable defensive set pushed Saracens on the backfoot to the extent a loose pass was scooped up by Fraser Dingwall to feed Sleightholme to glide in from half way and dot down before a bouncing Barwell Stand as Smith’s conversion opened a 21-point advantage entering the final ten minutes.

The young fly-half was sin-binned with two minutes remaining and was awarded man of the match as he left the field of play as Saracens somehow managed to snatch a point from the game as Lewington pulled in Goode’s crossfield kick to cross then, from the kick-off and with the clock in the red, the winger grabbed a second and Saracens’ fourth of the evening.

Goode’s conversion crashed off the post as Saints returned to winning ways ahead of next weekend’s Investec Champions Cup Round of 16 clash with Munster back at the Gardens.

LINE UPS

Saints: 15 Ramm, 14 Freeman, 13 Odendaal, 12 Dingwall, 11 Sleightholme, 10 F Smith, 9 James; 1 Iyogun, 2 Langdon, 3 Davison, 4 Moon, 5 Coles, 6 Lawes (c), 7 Pearson, 8 Augustus.

Replacements: 16 S Matavesi, 17 A Waller, 18 Prowse, 19 Mayanavanua, 20 Ludlam, 21 Graham, 22 McParland, 23 Litchfield.

Saracens: 15 Daly, 14 Maitland, 13 Cinti, 12 Tompkins, 11 Lewington, 10 Farrell (c), 9 van Zyl; 1 M Vunipola, 2 George, 3 Riccioni, 4 McFarland, 5 Isiekwe, 6 Gonzalez, 7 Christie, 8  B Vunipola.

Replacements: Dan, Mawi, Judge, Tizard, Willis, Earl, Simpson, Goode.

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