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Match Report: Saracens 12 – 18 Northampton Saints

Northampton Saints picked up a crucial away win at Saracens to keep pace with the Gallagher Premiership’s top four – but while Ollie Sleightholme and Alex Mitchell got on the scoresheet, this was a triumph built on resolute defence.

The men in Black, Green and Gold held a slender 6-0 lead at the interval, with Fin Smith landing two penalties in a nip-and-tuck first half.

Sleightholme then landed a sucker punch as Saints broke from deep to extend the lead, and while the hosts hit back through Tom Parton and (late on) Alex Lewington, it was Mitchell’s dash over the whitewash that proved decisive in north London.

FIRST HALF

Saints dominated the early territory, with Fin Smith’s chip over the top gathered by Fraser Dingwall, but after the visitors put the ball through their hands nicely, Ivan Van Zyl got over it to win a breakdown penalty.

Northampton stayed on top for the opening ten minutes with Saracens’ defence holding firm, and in the 12th minute Fraser Dingwall got back to cut out a pass, as Theo Dan broke the line on the hosts’ first meaningful attack of the game.

Smith sent a penalty just wide of the mark shortly after, with Ethan Waller getting over the ball just inside the Saracens half.

But Saints gritted their teeth and produced two very strong defensive sets to repel ten phases of Sarries attack on the edge of their own 22, before the hosts were penalised for a side entry.

And Northampton were rewarded with a penalty of their own in the 18th minute, with Gonzalez pinged in front of his own posts for going off his feet, and this time Smith landed the three points to send his side into the lead.

The young fly-half then doubled the advantage eight minutes later, with Saints winning a scrum penalty on the 15-metre line, which Smith kicked straight through the posts.

Northampton then made a mess of a series of Sarries’ lineout drives towards the end of the half, with the hosts getting themselves into promising positions before being repelled time and time again by the likes of Courtney Lawes, Tom Pearson and Alex Coles.

SECOND HALF

Saints were dealt a blow early in the second half as they lost Chunya Munga to a permanent HIA, but that brought Temo Mayanavanua on for his Club debut – and the big Fijian lock caught the eye from there on in.

In the 52nd minute, a scintillating counter attack saw George Furbank burst clear, and after Pearson and Tommy Freeman got their hands on the ball, Saints recycled possession and allowed Dingwall to chip the ball into acres of space on the right touchline to give Sleightholme the simplest of finishes.

Smith snuck the conversion inside the left post to open up a 13-0 lead, but back came Saracens; the defending champions got on the front foot with a couple of penalties back-to-back.

Saints repelled a couple of lineout drives, but eventually the hosts found the space to whip the ball wide for Parton to score in the corner – with Manu Vunipola’s conversion hitting the post.

However, Northampton answered in style in the 67th minute, as replacement hooker Curtis Langdon burst through a tackle, and two sensational offloads from Mayanavanua and Angus Scott-Young handed possession to Mitchell, and the scrum-half benefitted from the supporting run of Pearson to dummy his way past Alex Goode and over the line.

Smith hit the post as he attempted to add the extras, keeping Saints’ lead at 13 points, and despite a tidy Saracens try where Goode’s inch-perfect grubber was dotted down well by Lewington, the visitors held out in the closing stages to claim a memorable win.

The result moved Northampton to fifth in the Gallagher Premiership standings, but only two points off top spot heading into the two-week European break.

LINE-UPS

SARACENS: West, Dan, Clarey, Itoje (capt), McFarland, Gonzalez, Christie, Vunipola, van Zyl, Vunipola, Parton, Tompkins, Cinti, Maitland, Goode
Replacements: George, Vunipola, Judge, Tizard, Knight, Davies, Hartley, Lewington

SAINTS: Furbank (capt), Seabrook, Freeman, Dingwall, Sleightholme, Smith, James, Waller, Matavesi, Davison, Munga, Coles, Lawes, Pearson, Graham
Replacements: Langdon, Waller, Mills, Mayanavanua, Scott-Young, Mitchell, Litchfield, Hendy

Referee: Christophe Ridley

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