Northampton Saints claimed their first piece of silverware in five years as an emphatic 23-9 victory over Saracens saw Chris Boyd's men lift the inaugural Premiership Rugby Cup.
Saints scored three tries in an astonishing first-half display which blew the visitors away, and went on to close out the game with a fine defensive showing in front of a sold-out Franklin’s Gardens.
Teimana Harrison, Tom Wood and Ahsee Tuala all scored well-worked tries and despite some good work from Sarries fly-half Max Malins to reduce the deficit, two second-half penalties from Northampton extended their lead and sealed the newly-minted Premiership Rugby Cup trophy.
💬 "We've seen guys like @GeorgeFurbank, @AlexanderMoon96, @JaamesGrayson10 performing well in the PRC and as a result— Northampton Saints 😇 (@SaintsRugby) March 17, 2019
coming through and playing regular first team fixtures."
Chris Boyd on why @premrugby Cup glory means more than just silverware to Saints pic.twitter.com/xNF90NRqhH
The inaugural final got off to a frantic start, with both teams trying to gain the upper hand with some hard running and big tackles, but neither could find a breakthrough in the opening stages.
That was until Harrison latched onto Taqele Naiyaravoro’s impressive break down the left flank, and despite being hauled down just metres from the line, Harrison shrugged off his man and touched down the try in the corner to give Saints an early 5-0 lead.
Max Malins was able to bring Saracens back within two points shortly after with Saints offside in front of their own sticks, but the hosts defended well to prevent a try.
The Gardens then held its breath as Saracens looked to have scored their first of the game, but a TMO check from referee Ian Tempest ruled the try out as the ball had been held up, and Saints maintained their slim lead until Malins again opted for the posts with Northampton penalised.
But Saracens' 6-5 lead was short-lived as Saints made another superb break up the left flank through Naiyaravoro, before James Grayson shipped the ball out to Wood, who shuffled his way through a pile of bodies on the line to pick up the second try of the final for Northampton.
Paul Hill was then sent to the sin bin after taking a man out in the air, and Malins continued his form from the kicking tee to bring his side back again within one point.
Despite being a man down however, Saints pressured Saracens back into their 22 before Tuala broke free and just grounded the ball in the corner for the third try of the match; Grayson added the extras from the touchline to send Northampton 17-9 clear on the approach to half-time.
Saints then conjured some excellent defence to get out of jail at the end of the first half, winning a penalty with the north London outfit camped out on the five-metre line, meaning the men in Black, Green and Gold held a healthy eight-point advantage at the interval.
Saracens endured a torrid start to the second half, giving away a penalty for collapsing an early scrum, but Grayson’s attempt at goal was deflected by the wind.
Northampton certainly looked the likelier to score as Harrison broke free yet again, and Naiyaravoro swiped several defenders aside, but George Furbank’s hammering run didn’t quite make the try line.
They settled instead for a penalty from Grayson, much to the delight of the home crowd, as Saints pulled 11 points clear with just over 20 minutes to go – and after Cobus Reinach was introduced into the fray he immediately linked up with Piers Francis to make a darting break through the middle.
With the clock not on their side Saracens opted for the corner to try and haul themselves back into the contest, but Saints once again disrupted the set piece and won back the ball deep in their own territory.
Francis took over kicking duties in the closing minutes with man-of-the-match Grayson struggling with cramp, and he did a fine job of extending Saints lead to 23-9 in the fierce wind from out wide.
Saints controlled the game well at the death and Saracens never looked like scoring the two tries they needed, with Franklin's Gardens erupting at the final whistle as Northampton could celebrate the first trophy of the Chris Boyd era.