A dominant second half from Saracens saw the Aviva Premiership’s leaders progress to the European Rugby Champions Cup semi-finals.
The eventual scoreline was certainly harsh on the visitors, who travelled to face a full-strength Saracens without a host of internationals and other first teamers and had the misfortune of seeing Ben Foden have to leave the action early in the second half.
Saracens may have had the second half, but unquestionably the first period belonged to the Saints, whose pace, directness and willingness to spread the ball paid dividend with the game’s first try and could have brought at least one more.
Ken Pisi was the man over the whitewash 15 minutes into the contest, finishing off a sublime attack down the right wing that had seen Teimana Harrison first be put into the clear by a Christian Day offload and then draw the final defender superbly for the straightforward two-on-one pass.
But this was only one of several opportunities that Saints created in the opening 40 minutes, and the four-point advantage they took into the break scarcely did their effort justice.
Jamie Elliott had a try ruled out for dropping the ball over the line, the winger having first bounced off Richard Wigglesworth’s attempted tackle after being put away by Mikey Haywood’s excellent floated pass. And Kahn Fotuali’i could have had a run to the posts had the otherwise outstanding Ben Nutley found him with a two-on-one pass after he had scythed through the middle of the Saracens defence.
And while Stephen Myler nailed the conversion and a subsequent penalty he also missed his first two shots at the uprights, a failure not shared by opposite number Owen Farrell, whose own pair of three-pointers were his team’s only points.
Saracens were also on top in the lineout, disrupting several Saints throw-ins in dangerous positions, and had the edge in several scrums, earning themselves penalties to clear their lines, and no one supporting Ben Foden’s men in grey was ruling the hosts out when play resumed.
Ninety seconds after the restart such pragmatism looked well-placed as Chris Ashton fed Duncan Taylor to go over the try line. It had been a strong and patient Saracens attack that put the centre in, but had been helped by Will Fraser’s block on Luther Burrell in the build-up, an infringement spotted by referee Jerome Garces and confirmed by the television match official.
It had been a let-off for Saints, but with Foden forced off the field by injury they soon had their first major blow of the day. And with Saracens continuing to dominate possession and territory it was no real surprise when they also got the opening points of the half, Farrell chipping a simple penalty from in front of the sticks.
Given the pressure they had been under it was no small relief to see Myler convert a penalty in Saints’ first visit to the home 22 in the half, as it was when Ashton’s pass to Alex Goode be fumbled with the full back in the clear.
Saracens still came away with points, however, the forwards winning a penalty at the scrum from which Farrell made no mistake. Six minutes later and Saracens had the try their pressure demanded, Brad Barritt twice making charges forward to help create the space for Goode to feed Ashton to score in the corner.
It was a crucial blow that had Saints rocking, and the final 10 minutes saw the knockout blows be delivered by Farrell’s fifth penalty and a Chris Wyles try.
Courtney Lawes did secure a consolation for the Saints, but by then it was too little, too late, and it’s time to concentrate on domestic competition from now until the end of the season.
SARACENS Goode; Ashton, Taylor, Barritt (capt), Wyles; Farrell, Wigglesworth; M Vunipola, Brits, Du Plessis, Itoje, Kruis, Wray, Fraser, B Vunipola
Subs - Saunders, Barrington, Lamositele, Rhodes, De Kock, Bosch, Ransom
SAINTS Foden (capt); K Pisi, G Pisi, Burrell, Elliott; Myler, Fotuali’i; A Waller, Haywood, Hill, Craig, Day, Lawes, Nutley, Harrison
Subs - Marshall, Ma’afu, Denman, Matfield, Paterson, Kessell, Hanrahan, Mallinder
REFEREE Jerome Garces
6mins SAR Pen Farrell 3-0
9mins SAINTS Miss pen Myler
10mins SAR Yellow card Fraser
10mins SAINTS Miss pen Myler
15mins SAINTS Try K Pisi Con Myler 3-7
20mins SAR Pen Farrell 6-7
31mins SAINTS Pen Myler 6-10
HALF-TIME SARACENS 6 SAINTS 10
51mins SAR Pen Farrell 9-10
55mins SAINTS Pen Myler 9-13
61mins SAR Pen Farrell 12-13
67mins SAR Try Ashton Con Farrell 19-13
74mins SAR Pen Farrell 22-13
76mins SAR Try Wyles Con Farrell 29-13
80mins SAINTS Try Lawes Con Myler 29-20
FULL-TIME SARACENS 29 SAINTS 20