Saints have too much for Sarries
April 28, 2001
Saracens started like an express train only to get derailed by the end of the first quarter while Northampton began steadily and just got better and better - the story of the season in microcosm for these two clubs.
The difference in the team spirit of the two sides was there for all to see. Whilst Northampton's departing stars - this really was their last home game - were determined to sign off in style, with Tim Rodber and Allan Bateman both giving virtuoso performances, Saracens played like a side which wants to put the season behind them.
Because of the complicated qualification system they could still qualify for the Heineken Cup next season by virtue of their fifth place in the Premiership but at least Northampton have ended their misery for this campaign.
Northampton's Director of Rugby, John Steele, summed them up pefectly when he said, 'They are a fringing side - they don't appear to be able to take it if you really drive at them and go through them.' Pienaar would do well to take note.
The Saints have come good at the right time and if they can reproduce this form against Leicester next week they might just topple the champions. There was a celebratory air to Franklin Gardens and work begins next week to modernise the old stadium - Northampton is a happening place and Steele, made it very clear they are going to Leicester in determined mood. 'We have not won their for a long time but we couldn't ask for a better semi-final we are really relishing it; we think it's a game we can win,' he said.
The only consolation for Saracens and the Lions was that Dan Luger came through his first game since going off against Wales with a neck injury looking sharp and reporting no problems.
You could not have wished for a more gladiatorial first quarter. Saracens, looking sharper than they have since November, wasted no time in ripping into Northampton, who won home advantage by beating Saracens at the end of last month and scored a blistering try after just two minutes.
Northampton retaliated with ten minutes of extreme pressure but the visitors escaped as they fumbled at vital moments. Back came Saracens with another driving attack and Kyran Bracken dived over after Luke Harbut was stopped a metre short. Jannie de Beer converted and once again Saracens were looking good.
Back stormed the Saints - first Mark Soden and then Bateman were held up over the line before Saracens appeared to have cleared the danger with a long touch. Not so; Ben Cohen ran the ball back at them from the quickly taken line-out to set up a ruck back in the 22 and when the ball squeezed out on the left Luca Martin was in the right place to pick up and score.
Northampton then hit a purple patch scoring two tries in three minutes around the half hour mark. Nick Beal joined the line to set-up the first with Rodber taking the tackle in mid-field before slipping a deft ball inside to Matt Dawson who beat the last last defender to cruise in under the posts. Paul Grayson's second conversion took Northampton into the lead.
Straight from the restart Northampton forged their way back into the Saracens 22 and the defence went to sleep when Dawson recovered the ball after a scrappy ruck. He was given far too much time and the defence suddenly opened up to give him another run-in under the posts.
At 21-12 Saracens were still in it but Northampton's fourth try, just a minute into the second half, effectively put the game beyond them. regaining possession from the kick-off the pack simply powered forward with Rodber making the last few hard yards for the touchdown.
Francois Pienaar promptly replaced Tony Diprose (a sad way to end his Saracens career) and Scott Murray which seemed an odd response so early in the half and it did nothing to stop the rot. The whole Northampton team appeared to handle at least once before Cohen scored the fifth try after 54 minutes and another tremendous forward rumble ended with hooker, Steve Thompson scoring the sixth five minutes later.
Andrew Blowers celebrated one of his most convincing games by driving over from the back of a scrum.