December 11 2013 Latest news:
By James Cunliffe at Franklin’s Gardens
Saturday, October 26, 2013
Premiership: Northampton Saints 41 Saracens 20
Outclassed, outgunned, outmuscled and outthought, Saracens’ unbeaten Premiership record came to a crashing end at Franklin’s Gardens as Northampton Saints ran in six tries to dish out their heaviest defeat in four and a half years and reduce their lead at the top of the league to one point.
While their first reverse of the campaign came last week in the narrow 17-16 loss against Toulouse in the Heineken Cup there was none of that battling spirit as the Hendon outfit were torn to pieces by a host of standout performers in green, black and gold.
Most notable was man-of-the-match Samu Manoa and Ben Foden won the battle of the England full-backs and perhaps a place on the Red Rose bench as understudy to Harlequins’ Mike Brown. Released, along with Sarries’ Alex Goode, back to their clubs the Northampton man scored twice and prevented his opposite number from touching down with a first half intervention to outshine his rival in resounding style.
If this is a sign of things to come for Saracens, with a clutch of their top stars away on international duty, then it will be a worrisome autumn as their claims of a strong squad to cope with all the rigours of club and country rugby were ruthlessly exposed.
All over the park the visitors were second best, while their usually dominant set-piece was completely dismantled as the hosts – who are fast becoming the Londoners’ bogey team after last term’s play-off semi-final defeat – gave them a rare lesson in intensity.
There was no sign of what was to come when, right from the off, Sarries almost scored. Goode’s kick through was chased down by Michael Tagicakibau and, as Foden dallied in-goal – his only indiscretion of the match - the winger almost scored. The Television Match Official proved he didn’t and from that moment on the hosts and Foden in particular woke up.
Stephen Myler got them off and running with an early penalty which Goode matched and then came the opening try and one of relentless endeavour from Saints.
Khan Fotuali’i, who seized his chance at scrum-half in the international absence of Lee Dickson, made the initial breakthrough and moved the ball in contact to Sam Dickinson who did likewise to see Jamie Elliott under the posts.
Myler added the extras and then an inventive kick from the restart saw Saints retake possession and almost score a second. Northampton had men over out wide but Goode put in fabulous cover tackle to stop Ken Pisi.
Saints try-scorer Elliott then performed the same feat to stop David Strettle in the corner as the Sarries wing pinned his ears back and aimed for the whitewash.
But if that was an impressive tackle then Foden’s moments later was magnificent, putting his body in harm’s way as Goode attempted to ram through him and ripping the ball from his England rival’s grasp as they hit the deck - an intervention confirmed by the TMO.
There was no such resilience in the Saracens rearguard though as Manoa, who had been brutally dominant, crashed through two flimsy challenges from Nils Mordt and full debutant Richard Barrington before side-stepping Goode to dot down between the uprights, which Myler bisected with the conversion.
Goode, kicking in the international absence of Owen Farrell, reduced the arrears with a penalty to conclude the half but any hope that the goal would spark a second half revival were quickly dashed four minutes after the mid-point break.
Foden provided yet another try-line lesson in determination, this time in an attacking sense, as he burrowed over at close range from the back of a ruck with a little help from Phil Dowson. Myler’s conversion was wayward but his side were so in command of the clash that it mattered little, especially as Foden soon doubled his tally.
He collected Myler’s grubber to flop over to secure the bonus point and this time his fly-half colleague made sure of the extras to extend the lead to 29-6.
It sparked a raft of Sarries substitutions which saw Marcelo Bosch make his debut after signing for the club earlier this month – a bow to forget, no doubt.
So effective had Northampton been that it took until the 62nd minute before Saracens were able to employ the driving maul that had been the undoing of the first five of their Premiership rivals. And once they’d set it in motion it resulted in Duncan Taylor darting through under the posts.
Any gains for the Londoners were quickly extinguished as Goode got himself in a mess at the back by letting Luther Burrell’s big boot forward bounce in front of him. Like the entire afternoon luck deserted him and George Pisi gleefully collected, popped off to his brother Ken who set Burrell free to finish the move he’d started. His effort was converted before he and fellow scorers Foden and Manoa were replaced to rapturous applause from the home support.
Saracens responded again, but it was a mere consolation and debatable if it was grounded at all. Kelly Brown was adjudged to have touched down from a lineout drive by referee Tim Wigglesworth even though video replays appeared inconclusive. Goode’s conversion was accurate but just as his side had done in the wake of their previous try, they capitulated to another Northampton score.
This time is was Ken Pisi who was on the end of a defence-splitting long pass from Myler and a shorter assist from James Wilson to run in from 25 yards.
It was no more than Saints had deserved and proof, if any were needed, that despite their early season form Saracens will not be leading a procession to the title.
Northampton: Foden (Wilson, 66); K Pisi, G Pisi, Burrell (Waldouck, 66), Elliott (Glynn, 73); Myler, Fotuali’i; A Waller (E Waller, 62), Haywood (McMillan, 73), Ma’afu (Denman, 58), Manoa (Nutley, 66), Day, Clark, Dowson (capt), Dickinson (Van Velze, h-t).
Scorers: Tries: Elliott, Manoa, Foden 2, Burrell, K Pisi. Cons: Myler 4. Pen: Myler.
Saracens: Goode; Strettle, Wyles, Taylor, Tagicakibau (Bosch, 53); Mordt (Ransom, 64), Wigglesworth (De Kock, 53); Barrington (Auterac, 65), Brits (George, 53), Stevens (Johnston, 53), Borthwick (capt), Hargreaves (Botha, 53), Brown, Burger (Wray, 58), Joubert.
Scorers: Tries: Taylor, Brown. Cons: Goode 2. Pens: Goode 2.
Referee: T Wigglesworth