The Saints’ Under-18s ensured that their season ended on a high with a stirring comeback victory over Saracens at Allianz Park on Friday night.
The quality that took these two teams all the way to the Premiership Rugby Academies League Final last season was on show for all to see in conditions perfect for enterprising, running rugby.
Saracens struck first, breaking the deadlock after 18 minutes when the fly half intercepted a pass on his own 10-metre line before sprinting in to score. The sides had been exchanging blows up to that point, with both teams willing to keep play alive and make territory with ball in hand.
Saints’ reply was swift, and they were soon on level terms when, after a quickly tapped penalty, Oli Burgess broke away on a counter attack, before finding Adam Shaw on the wing who showed electric pace to skirt round the defence and dot down between the posts.
The score remained unchanged until half-time, and suddenly the passes that had not gone to hand in the first half started to stick.
As with the first half it was Saracens who struck first, and, after an excellent swerving run halted just short of the line, the Saracens forwards stayed organised and crashed over the line to take the lead. Not satisfied with their one-score advantage, Saracens scored again just five minutes later after another Saints miss-pass was intercepted.
A Saracens yellow card for killing the ball seemed to kick start the Saints’ second half. From the resulting penalty both teams lined up ready for the ball to be kicked to touch, but clever reading of the narrow Saracens defence meant that the ball was instead kicked wide in the opposite direction for Shaw to dive over in the corner for his second of the game.
Minutes later, the Saints were in again and the comeback was complete. The kick off following the try was collected well and hard running and soft hands brought the Saints steadily upfield, with every carry making metres over the gainline. Within a matter of minutes, the Saints were once again pounding on the Sarries line, Alex Branson eventually levelling the scores.
The evening was soon to get better for the Saints. Just two minutes later an impressive driving maul started outside the home 22 and continued inexorably towards the try line, and when it finally was brought down, patient phase play kept the defence tied in before a simple James Grayson show-and-go allowed him to crash over the line to put the visitors into the lead for the first time.
Fraser Dingwall added the fifth and final score of the evening after another strong driving maul set the platform for a Saints attack. The maul itself was stopped inches from the line, but the ball was shipped quickly out to Scotland U18 Exile Dingwall, who evaded two tackles to cross the line.
Neither side showed any signs of tiring as the game came to a close, and Saracens scored with the final attack of the match.
“Tonight was just about giving this group of lads one last game together,” Senior Academy coach Mark Hopley told SaintsTV.
“The whole team played some brilliant running rugby tonight and yes, we made a few mistakes, but the team spirit and the togetherness of the guys to come back from a couple of scores down was brilliant.”
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