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Saints lay down a marker v Sarries ahead of play-offs

“We managed to keep in the game … and get on the front foot … our set piece worked well and I think we dominated that second-half.” 

said DoR Jim Mallinder.

An overcast afternoon at Stadium MK turned out to be pretty luscious with the sun shining down on Milton Keynes; a proud host of the 2015 Rugby World Cup, with a record attendance of 27,411 to witness this fantastic spectacle. 

The clappers were at the ready; ‘Come on You Saints’ banners on every seat and the 16th man in fabulous full voice. This match was going to be mouth wateringly momentous!

Saracens started with their foot on the gas and after six minutes and a powerful stable rolling maul, they commenced the running rugby they do so well and withChris Wyles touching down at pace, Hodgson added the extras. It looked all too easy peasy early doors for the visitors and the stadium and the magnitude of the melodious singing definitely wasn’t fazing them. Well the crowd had fallen silent … for now. 

Luckily for Northampton, minutes later, Stephen Myler successfully placed two penalties in quick succession to finally put Saints on the score board.  But Saracens caught Myler off-guard on the counter-attack and managed to turn the ball over in Saints 22′. 

It was all systems go out wide and a ferocious effort from Billy Vunipola with a cheeky offload to Wyles enabled him to cross the whitewash with ease…again. Oh dear, Oh dear Saints!  When were they going to march in?

And then in the second quarter of the game, out of nowhere - someone, somewhere - flicked a switch and Saints began to pump up the pressure and magic up some momentum. 

Luther Burrell was on fire! He managed to wriggle free from a tackle to offload superbly to Samu Manoa who bulldozed over the line. Stadium MK rocked as Saints fans roared in appreciation of Northampton’s first try. 

Saracens attack was absolutely sensational though, their discipline worked like clockwork in the first half and their timings impeccably quick. Their ability to reset their back line so rapidly with sharp offloads made for sublime viewing. For instance, a simple dummy switch pass to the backs every time, saw the back line in electric form and travelling at the speed of light. 

It looked frighteningly dangerous and at times I thought, ‘I’d hate to be in Northampton’s shoes right now.’  And Sarrie’s scrummaging was just immense!

And when Billy Vunipola charged down Myler’s clearance kick from Saints own 22′, it highlighted Sarries defence was just as immense. But to everyone’s dismay, Billy managed to drop the ball when crossing the line! But this fantastic player adds strings to his bow week on week and I think the luck was on Saints side – a welcome reprise.

But not for long; a no-arms tackle by Samu Manoa on Billy Vunipola saw Sarries extend their lead further with a penalty as we approached half-time, 13-17. 

Unfortunately Billy left the field with a sprained ankle to be replaced by Jackson Wray. However, he then also left the field shortly after with a ‘normal concussion’ as described by Mark McCall post game and was replaced by Jim Hamilton.

An unfortunate end to the first half for Saracens; however they definitely had the upper hand going into half-time - a rugby machine – as solid as a rock.

HT 13-17

Back out and Sarries appeared re-attired in their black home strip shirts, ditching the all white strip to avoid confusion with the Saints’ red and white strip. (Yes, we were all surprised at this unusual choice for a home game but the Board makes the decisions). 

Fashion aside however, it now looked like both sides meant business with a sensational effort upfront and it was a brilliant battle to witness. Feisty, refreshing and ferocious! 

Saints became the Easter bunnies, hopping onto the front foot when Maro Itoje was sent to the bin and they found themselves metres from the try line.  Surely it was time for them to do some damage - but frustratingly - they didn’t.  With Saracens dominating so strongly in the scrum, the damage was self-inflicted and Saints were penalised, time and time again. *insert frustrated face emoji

here*

But back on the attack and Saints were gaining confidence, especially when Ken Pisi crossed. Unfortunately he was held up and back they went for the scrum 5m out. The ball was in and out of the scrum remarkably quickly and the crowd were on their feet with excitement.  A flick of the wrist from Tom Wood saw a very quirky pass to Myler but the pass that followed to Calum Clark was shocking and he knocked on. 

So near - yet again - yet so far…and so close to the try line!  

Not really what Northampton needed when they were trailing by seven points. Were

Saracens clear now?

Well, no. Concentration waned and they began to spiral a little downhill just as Saints responded with a monumental shift. They managed to fight in the forwardspack to win the crucial penalties. One became two, two became three…you canguess what followed. Myler slotted the initial penalty and five more followed as he made it six from eight overall. The adrenaline was certainly pumping around sunny Stadium MK!

Northampton wanted this win and more to the point, they needed it!

Then, after 64 minutes, Saints took the lead.

So what more did they have to offer?  Well Myler’s reliable boot was certainly the answer because with Saracens defending until the death, crossing the try line certainly wasn’t.  

Even into the red, when Myler’s last kick hit the post, Saints could not relax as Sarries mounted the fight back until the ball went dead.  The great British Bulldog until the final whistle. 

Talk about edge of yer seat!!

Although Saints managed to maintain the majority of the possession in the second 40, Saracens defended their line tooth and nail.

What a fine contest, 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 was a fantastic effort from the whole pack.   Patience was key and I also thought Ken Pisi was on fantastic form, he had a stormer. And Saracens of course were sublime and solid.

Lee Dickson spoke of their win and Stephen’s performance after the game;

“I think it was exactly what we needed. We’ve had a dodgy last couple of weeks and there’s been some soul searching going on and we’ve stayed together which is the main thing, which is the brilliant thing about this club … We are back on track now for the run in to the end of the season.”

“He’s the heart and soul of this club really (Myler); he’s your ten at the end of the day, the one that pulls the strings and now for me, I’ve probably played near enough 100 times with him and you know … he’s an exceptional player.”

I’m not sure what happened to Saracen’s scrum in the last 30 but Saints seemed to refocus and play turned in Saints’ favour with Greg Garner penalising Saracens repeatedly. Tides turned and Saints became the strongly attacking pack with Sarries struggling to re-assert under the pressure.

But was Billy’s departure a turning point for the Champions? Well I certainly thought it was.

However, it was an exceptional game of rugby and a magnificent contest too. 

Was it a warm-up for the Premiership final? 

…Well we shall see!

By Rhiannon Chandler-Day

@RhiannonCDay

You can see more from Rhiannon at: http://rhiannonsrugbyunionblog.blogspot.co.uk

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