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Saracens suffer first league loss of the season as Men in Black thrashed 41-20 by Northampton Saints
Saracens suffered their heaviest defeat in four and a half years as a particularly below-par performance saw the Men in Black thrashed 41-20 by Northampton Saints at Franklins Gardens.
The fact Mark McCall’s team lost their first league match of the season to their fiercest rivals and now only lead Saints by a point in the table will be of less concern to the Sarries boss than the rudderless nature of their display.
Sloppy in the set-piece and toothless in the tackle, Sarries were second best throughout this contest, conceding six tries, which is as many as they had conceded in all their five previous league games put together.
Five international absentees may go some way to explaining some of the Men in Black's problems but in truth there was more than enough quality in the starting line-up to match Saints, who were without five players themselves.
With Mako and Billy Vunipola, Owen Farrell, Joel Tomkins and Chris Ashton on England duty, Saracens were forced to shuffle the pack.
Summer signing Richard Barrington made his club debut in the front row, Nils Mordt came in at fly-half and Michael Tagicakibau started on the wing.
Charlie Hodgson and Will Fraser were both hopeful of returning from injury but neither were passed fit while new signing Marcelo Bosch was named on the bench.
With Farrell and Hodgson absent, Goode took over kicking duties and it was the full-back who opened the scoring from the tee before Stephen Myler returned the favour to make it 3-3 within the first ten minutes.
Saints started the bolder of the two teams however as Sarries were sloppy early on with unforced errors at the set-piece and soft tackling in the backline.
In the 12th minute the home side scored the first try of the match as Samu Manoa broke through from a line-out and quick hands from Sam Dickinson saw Jamie Elliott dive over. Myler added the extras and Saints led 10-3.
Sarries responded positively and it was only two excellent last-ditch tackles that preserved the home side’s advantage. With 16 minutes gone, Mordt fed David Strettle and as the former Harlequins man looked destined to score in the corner, Elliott sped across to prevent a certain try.
Two minutes later Sarries looked like they might be in again, this time in the opposite corner, as a brilliant pass by Mordt put Goode in but as the full-back crashed over the line he was tackled by Ben Foden. Goode spun over and, as the TMO replay proved, was unable to ground the ball.
It was an encouraging ten-minute spell for Sarries but the pressure didn’t last and it was Saints who troubled the scoreboard next with a second try.
Luther Burrell burst through an unusually flimsy Sarries defence and as the visitors tried to get numbers back, Manoa broke through three weak tackling attempts to score. Myler converted and after 27 minutes the hosts extended their lead to 17-3.
Saracens improved slightly towards the end of the first half and were rewarded for their impetus with a penalty which Goode slotted home to close the gap to 11 points at the interval.
After what was undeniably the Men in Black’s poorest 40 minutes of rugby this season Saints may have expected a backlash of sorts in the second half but any fears they had were soon eased.
Within three minutes, Saints were in again as Sarries’ pack was driven backwards and Foden capitalised to score the home side’s third try of the match. Myler missed the conversion but Saints were jubilant, leading 22-6 and within sight of a bonus-point.
The Men in Black’s miserable afternoon got even worse nine minutes later as Goode’s penalty kick failed to reach touch and from the counter attack Saints spread the ball wide.
Myler poked the ball through towards the corner and Foden scooped it up before holding off both Goode and Strettle to score their fourth try.
Mark McCall rang the changes, hauling off five players and the replacements made a difference as Mordt used a decoy runner well, delaying his pass to Duncan Taylor who cut inside to cross score Sarries’ first try of the afternoon. Goode scored the conversion to make the score 29-13.
But the relief was temporary for the away team as Goode let a high kick bounce and Ken Pisi seized the ball before releasing Burrell to finish off.
The pass looked suspiciously forward and it was a surprise that referee Tim Wigglesworth was instructed to award the try after the decision was referred to TMO.
Saracens reduced the deficit once more when Kelly Brown put the ball down in the 68th minute and Goode added the extra two points to make it 36-20 with just over ten minutes to play.
But three minutes later Ken Pisi made it 41-20, sprinting home in the corner as Saracens ran out of numbers out wide. Myler missed the conversion wide of the posts but Saints were deserving run-away winners and move up to second in the table.
Saracens will be looking to bounce back when they play Newcastle Falcons at home next Sunday.
Saracens: 15. Alex Goode; 14. Michael Tagicakibau (Bosch, 54), 13. Chris Wyles, 12. Duncan Taylor, 11. David Strettle; 10. Nils Mordt (Ransom, 64), 9. Richard Wigglesworth (de Kock, 54); 1. Richard Barrington (Auterac, 64), 2. Schalk Brits (George, 54), 3. Matt Stevens (Johnston, 54), 4. Steve Borthwick (c), 5. Alastair Hargreaves (Botha, 54), 6. Kelly Brown, 7. Jacques Burger (Wray, 59), 8. Ernst Joubert
Replacements; 16. Jamie George, 17. Nick Auterac, 18. James Johnston, 19. Mourtiz Botha, 20. Jackson Wray, 21. Neil de Kock, 22. Marcelo Bosch, 23. Ben Ransom
Northampton Saints: 15. Ben Foden (Wilson, 62), 14. Ken Pisi, 13. George Pisi, 12. Luther Burrell, 11. Jamie Elliott, 10. Stephen Myler, 9. Kahn Fotuali'i, 1. Alex Waller (Ethan Waller, 62), 2. Mike Haywood (McMillan, 72), 3. Salesi Ma’afu, 4. Samu Manoa, 5. Christian Day, 6. Calum Clark, 7. Phil Dowson (capt), 8. Sam Dickinson (Van Velze, 40)
Replacements: 16. Ross McMillan, 17. Ethan Waller, 18. Gareth Denman, 19. GJ Van Velze, 20. Ben Nutley, 21. Ryan Glynn, 22. Dom Waldouck, 23. James Wilson
Referee: Tim Wigglesworth
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