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Saints 28 – 54 Saracens: Northampton downed in second-half at the Gardens

A back-and-forth Premiership Rugby Cup clash at Franklin’s Gardens saw Northampton Saints eventually beaten 54-28, with Saracens pulling away in the final 20 minutes.

The visitors held a slender 23-21 lead at the interval, despite Andy Symons’ superb double – his first points in Black, Green and Gold – and a Henry Taylor try for Northampton keeping them within touching distance.

But despite pulling ahead early in the second half when David Ribbans stretched over the whitewash, scores from Ben Spencer, Nick Tompkins and Manu Vunipola saw Saracens stretch out an unassailable lead.

Saints began the game by moving through the phases nicely in the midfield, but Andy Christie’s intercept saw Saracens nearly score in the corner, with Henry Taylor’s superb covering tackle denying Alex Lozowski the game’s opening score.

And Taylor was there again moments later to prevent another certain try, stripping the ball out of Lozowski’s hands as the England international looked to crash over the line – but after seven minutes the visitors had their score, putting the ball through the hands from a lineout to send Matt Gallagher over in the left corner.

Tom Whiteley’s conversion fell short to leave the score at 5-0, but some frenetic play from Saints saw them advance up the pitch, and after Olowofela made the key break it was Symons who broke through under the posts to touch down his first Northampton try, with the score awarded via the TMO.

A routine conversion for Grayson put the hosts 7-5 ahead, however as the kick-off held up in the wind Saracens regained possession, and with Saints caught offside Whiteley knocked over a penalty to make it 8-7 on 18 minutes.

But Northampton responded well and with Callum Hunter-Hill penalised by referee Craig Maxwell-Keys, that man Taylor scored off the back of the resulting scrum, throwing a dummy and jinking through to touch down against his former side.

Grayson striped a conversion through the uprights to make it 14-8 on 25 minutes, but Saracens hit the hosts with a quick double to turn the tie on its head.

First from absolutely nowhere Gallagher burst through a gap on halfway to send Rotimi Segun over in the left corner, before Tompkins touched down on the other side of the pitch following Josh Ibuanokpe’s initial break.

Northampton hit back before the half-time whistle however with a brilliantly-worked line-out move seeing Taylor time his pass to perfection and Symons punch a hole through Saracens’ defence to finish with aplomb.

While two Whiteley penalties either side of the interval saw the vistors edge ahead once more, Saints wrapped up their try bonus point through Ribbans after patient and controlled build-up play.

That levelled the scores and another well-struck conversion from Grayson put Saints briefly back on top at 28-26, but they were pegged back again by Segun – whose lightning-fast feet saw him burst up the right wing before offloading to the onrushing replacement Ben Spencer who scored with almost his first touch.

And with 17 minutes still on the clock, Saracens opened up a two-score lead with Nick Tompkins wriggling over off the back of a driving maul, and with the next score crucial, a moment of magic from fly-half Manu Vunipola saw him cross under the posts to take the game away from Northampton.

A bizarre incident at the breakdown then saw Symons and Charlie Watson both dismissed from the field – Symons shown a yellow card for holding on and Watson sent off permanently for an over the top retaliation.

And with both teams down to 14 men, there was still time for man-of-the-match Tompkins to capitalise on a loose ball in the Saints’ midfield and run in to complete his hat-trick.

Northampton now face East Midlands rivals Leicester Tigers away from home next weekend to bring their Premiership Rugby Cup campaign to a close.

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