Northampton Saints 26 Saracens 7: Semi-final heartbreak again for Sarries
16:07 08 March 2014
Semi-final defeat at the hands of Northampton Saints is becoming a familiar feeling for Saracens after George Pisi snatched away a shot at LV= Cup glory with a second half hat-trick.
The east midlands side appear to hold an Indian sign over the Hendon outfit as they have now beaten Sarries in last term’s play-off semi-final, three times this season at Franklin’s Gardens in league and cup and usurped them at the Premiership’s summit.
Just how damaging a psychological effect this will have on Sarries’ title aspirations may have to wait until the play-off final if, of course, they can navigate their way past the last four of a competition for the first time in two seasons - having fallen at the same stage in all three competitions last campaign.
Yet it could have been so different as the Londoners dominated the opening period and should have opened up some considerable breathing room by half time.
But hey returned to the changing room at the interval just 7-6 up after blowing a succession of chances, while a Marcelo Bosch try was chalked off for a forward pass – a decision which director of rugby Mark McCall labelled “a game changer”.
“It would have been 14-6 to us at that point, so I think it was a case of what might have been today,” the Northern Irishman admitted.
“[There were] some really good things and it was a brilliant experience for some of our younger players.
“I though Matt Hankin at number seven was outstanding and really stood up against a formidable Northampton back.
“Ben Spencer at scrum half as well, so it’s an important part of their progression, playing in games like this against opposition like this, in front of crowds like this and, for the most part, they did very well.”
Saracens did score a try in the first half when, on 20 minutes, Ben Ransom got his just rewards for a stellar individual performance. However, his side just couldn’t add to their seven points and it came back to haunt them.
“I think we’ll reflect and look back on what might have been,” McCall said.
“The first 50 minutes of the game we played really well and I think we had three really big opportunities, or it felt that way.
“We converted one of them but it got pulled back for a forward pass and against a team like Northampton you’ve got to take the chances when they come along.
“There was one just after half time as well down the far right hand side.
“They were very clinical when they got up to our 22. They came away with something every time and the game just got away from us.
“But I’m really proud at how we did in the first 50 minutes in particular.”
Saints fly-half Will Hooley slotted two goals early on but it was all Saracens after that and Ransom looked lively with ball in hand and was alert to Saints’ clearance kicks to keep the pressure on the hosts.
Centre Tim Streather burst through the tackles but a chance went begging when he offloaded to Michael Tagicakibau and James Collins halted his progress.
Winger Jack Wilson scampered down the other flank moments later only to hit a brick wall in the form of Ben Foden on the England international’s return from a knee injury.
But the breakthrough finally came when Jackson Wray sprung from the back of a scrum with an initial burst that nudged Sarries up to the try-line and Ransom supplied the finish from close range.
Spencer added the extras but couldn’t extend his side’s lead with a penalty as Saracens failed to turn their pressure into points as promising breaks fizzled. None more so than when Bosch scurried over only to have the effort ruled out by the television match official for a forward pass in the build-up.
Their profligacy would prove costly as Northampton got their set-piece working in the second half. They may rarely have ventured into the Saracens’ 22 during the opening 40 minutes but one Stephen Myler kick to the corner and the visitors were in trouble. They held up a lineout drive but couldn’t keep out Pisi, on a piercing run, once the ball was recycled.
Hooley squandered a relatively simple conversion but a Myler drop goal edged Saints 14-7 ahead and from there Sarries’ final dream died – and they only had themselves to blame.
Bosch was caught in two minds, fielding a Foden kick-chase which saw Saints runners smother him. Sarries knocked on to gift Northampton a five-metre scrum just to the right of the posts, from which Pisi scored his second in the corner.
Myler couldn’t add the extras but Sarries fate was sealed when the winger backed up his brace and firmly stamped himself as man-of-the-match with a try-saving tackle on Charlie Hodgson – after an intercept breakaway – to keep the Londoners scoreless in the second period.
But the Samoan wasn’t finished and he completed Sarries’ misery with another bruising burst over the line to send Saints into a showpiece final and leave the Londoners with another painful Northampton memory.
Saracens: Ransom, Tagicakibau (Wyles), Streather, Bosch, Wilson, Mordt (Hodgson), Spencer (De Kock), Barrington (Gill), George (Saunders), Du Plessis (Johnston), Sherrif (Smith), Botha, Botha, Melck (De Jager), Hankin, Wray
Referee: Leighton Hodges (WRU)