“We managed toÂ keep in the gameÂ … and get on the front footÂ …Â our set piece worked well and IÂ think we dominated that second-half.”Â
said DoR Jim Mallinder.
An overcastÂ afternoon at Stadium MK turned out to be pretty luscious with the sun shiningÂ down on Milton Keynes; a proud host of the 2015 Rugby World Cup, with a recordÂ attendance of 27,411 to witness this fantastic spectacle.Â
The clappers were atÂ the ready;Â ‘Come on You Saints’ banners on every seat and the 16th man inÂ fabulousÂ fullÂ voice.Â This match was going to beÂ mouth wateringlyÂ momentous!
SaracensÂ started with theirÂ foot on the gasÂ andÂ afterÂ six minutes andÂ aÂ powerful stableÂ rolling maul,Â they commenced theÂ running rugby they doÂ so well and withChris Wyles touching down at pace, Hodgson addedÂ the extras.Â It lookedÂ all tooÂ easy peasy early doors forÂ the visitors andÂ the stadium andÂ the magnitude of the melodiousÂ singing definitely wasn’tÂ fazingÂ them.Â Well theÂ crowd had fallen silent â€¦Â for now.Â
Luckily for Northampton,Â minutes later,Â Stephen MylerÂ successfully placedÂ two penalties in quick succession to finally put SaintsÂ on the score board. Â But Saracens caught Myler off-guard on theÂ counter-attack and managed to turn the ball over in Saints 22′.Â
It was allÂ systems go out wide and a ferocious effort from Billy Vunipola with a cheekyÂ offload to Wyles enabledÂ him to cross the whitewash withÂ ease…again.Â Oh dear,Â Oh dear Saints!Â Â When were they going to march in?
And thenÂ in the second quarter of the game, out of nowhere -Â someone, somewhereÂ -Â flicked a switchÂ and Saints began to pump up theÂ pressure andÂ magic up someÂ momentum.Â
Luther Burrell was on fire!Â He managed to wriggle freeÂ from a tackle to offload superbly to Samu ManoaÂ who bulldozedÂ over theÂ line.Â Stadium MKÂ rocked as Saints fans roared in appreciation ofÂ Northampton’s first try.Â
SaracensÂ attack was absolutely sensational though, their discipline worked like clockworkÂ in theÂ first half andÂ their timings impeccably quick.Â Their ability to reset their back lineÂ so rapidly with sharp offloads made for sublime viewing.Â For instance, a simpleÂ dummy switch pass to the backs every time, saw the back line in electric formÂ andÂ travellingÂ at the speed of light.Â
It looked frighteningly dangerous andÂ at times I thought, â€˜I’d hate to be in Northampton’s shoes right now.â€™ Â And Sarrieâ€™s scrummaging was justÂ immense!
And whenÂ Billy VunipolaÂ charged downÂ Mylerâ€™sÂ clearanceÂ kick from Saints own 22′,Â itÂ highlighted SarriesÂ defence was just as immense.Â But to everyone’s dismay,Â Billy managed to drop the ball when crossing the line!Â But this fantastic playerÂ adds strings to his bow week on week andÂ I think the luck was onÂ Saints sideÂ â€“ a welcome reprise.
ButÂ not forÂ long;Â aÂ no-arms tackle by Samu Manoa on Billy Vunipola saw Sarries extend their leadÂ further with a penalty as we approached half-time, 13-17.Â
Unfortunately BillyÂ left the field with a sprained ankle to be replaced by Jackson Wray.Â However, heÂ thenÂ alsoÂ left the field shortly after with a ‘normal concussion’ as described byÂ Mark McCallÂ postÂ game andÂ was replaced by Jim Hamilton.
An unfortunateÂ endÂ to the first half for Saracens;Â however theyÂ definitelyÂ had the upper hand going intoÂ half-timeÂ -Â aÂ rugby machine – asÂ solid as a rock.
Back outÂ and SarriesÂ appeared re-attired inÂ their black home stripÂ shirts,Â ditching the all white strip to avoid confusionÂ with the Saints’ red and white strip. (Yes,Â we were all surprised at thisÂ unusualÂ choice for a home game but the Board makes the decisions).Â
Fashion asideÂ however, itÂ nowÂ looked like bothÂ sides meant business with a sensational effort upfront andÂ it was a brilliantÂ battle to witness.Â Feisty,Â refreshing and ferocious!Â
SaintsÂ became the Easter bunnies,Â hopping ontoÂ the front foot when Maro Itoje was sent to theÂ bin and they found themselvesÂ metres from the try line. Â Surely it was time for them to do some damageÂ -Â butÂ frustratinglyÂ -Â they didn’t. Â With SaracensÂ dominating so strongly in the scrum,Â the damage was self-inflicted andÂ Saints were penalised, time and time again. *insert frustrated face emoji
But back on the attack and Saints were gaining confidence, especiallyÂ when Ken Pisi crossed.Â Unfortunately he was held up and back they went forÂ theÂ scrumÂ 5m out.Â The ball was in and out of the scrum remarkably quickly and the crowdÂ were onÂ their feet with excitement. Â AÂ flick of the wrist from Tom Wood sawÂ a very quirky pass to Myler but the pass that followed to Calum Clark wasÂ shocking andÂ he knocked on.Â
So nearÂ -Â yetÂ againÂ -Â yetÂ so far…and so close to the try line!Â Â
Not really what Northampton needed when they were trailing by seven points.Â Were
Saracens clear now?
Well, no.Â Concentration waned and they beganÂ to spiral a little downhill just as SaintsÂ responded with a monumental shift.Â They managed to fight in the forwardspack to win the crucial penalties.Â One became two, two became three…you canguess what followed.Â Myler slotted the initial penalty andÂ five more followed as he made it six from eight overall. The adrenaline wasÂ certainlyÂ pumping around sunny Stadium MK!
Northampton wanted this win andÂ more to the point, they needed it!
Then, after 64 minutes, SaintsÂ took the lead.
SoÂ what more did they haveÂ to offer? Â Well Myler’s reliable boot wasÂ certainly the answer becauseÂ with SaracensÂ defending until the death, crossing the try lineÂ certainlyÂ wasn’t.Â Â
Even into the red, when Mylerâ€™s last kick hit the post, Saints could not relax as Sarries mounted the fight back until the ball went dead. Â The great British BulldogÂ until the final whistle.Â
Talk about edge of yer seat!!
Although SaintsÂ managed to maintain the majority ofÂ the possessionÂ in the second 40,Â Saracens defendedÂ their line tooth and nail.
What a fine contest,Â showcasing Premiership action at its finest.
Full Time: Northampton Saints 25 – 20 Saracens
It was fair to say Myler deserved MOTM but I also thought it wasÂ a fantastic effort from the whole pack. Â Patience was key and I also thought KenÂ Pisi was on fantastic form, he had a stormer.Â And Saracens of course were sublime and solid.
Lee Dickson spoke of their winÂ and Stephen’s performance after the game;
“I think it was exactly what weÂ needed.Â We’ve had a dodgy last couple of weeks and there’s been some soulÂ searching going on and we’ve stayed together which is the main thing, which isÂ the brilliant thing about this clubÂ … We are back on track now for the run inÂ to the end of the season.”
“He’s the heart and soul of this club reallyÂ (Myler);Â he’s your ten at the end of the day, the one that pulls the strings andÂ now for me, I’ve probably played near enough 100 times with him and youÂ knowÂ …Â he’s an exceptional player.”
I’m not sure what happened to Saracen’sÂ scrum in theÂ last 30 but Saints seemed to refocus and play turnedÂ in Saintsâ€™Â favour with Greg GarnerÂ penalising Saracens repeatedly.Â Tides turned and Saints became the strongly attackingÂ packÂ with Sarries strugglingÂ to re-assertÂ under the pressure.
But was Billy’s departure a turning pointÂ for the Champions?Â Well I certainly thought it was.
However, it was an exceptionalÂ game of rugby and a magnificent contest too.Â
Was it a warm-up for theÂ Premiership final?Â
…Well we shall see!
By Rhiannon Chandler-Day
You can see more from Rhiannon at: http://rhiannonsrugbyunionblog.blogspot.co.uk