Mark McCall admitted Northampton Saints had angered the beast and spurred Saracens into mounting a thrilling Aviva Premiership Rugby comeback on Sunday.
The defending champions trailed for most of the contest at Stadium:mk, but came back from 20-6 down at the start of the second half to win 27-25 with virtually the last kick of the game.
Harry Mallinder had got hosts Saints off to the perfect start in the first half, before Dylan Hartley and Ken Pisi had stretched their advantage early in the second period.
Thank you so much for all the messages over the past couple of days! What a day! Great fight from the @Saracens lads to get the W! ❤🔥🤙
— Nick (@NickIsiekwe) April 16, 2017
Saracens fly-half Alex Lozowski had kept his side in touch from the tee, but after Chris Ashton came off the bench to spark the comeback, Marcelo Bosch’s try at the death allowed Lozowski to nail a clutch conversion.
And while McCall knows his side will have to be far better in their European Champions Cup semi-final against Munster next weekend, he was impressed with the determination of his charges not to be beaten.
“We had a decent bench to bring on, of course but I think the players got almost angry after the third try which was a really poor and sloppy one to concede,” he said.
“It felt as though they were irritated with themselves which meant they carried the ball that bit harder and starting to get off the line that bit harder.
“This put them under a lot of pressure and thankfully we had time to win the game.
“It was a bit of a lesson to us about the big things that need to be right. Some of those big things that were wrong today won’t be good enough against Munster and we need to work hard on them during the week.
“It was great for George [Kruis] to get 80 minutes under his belt before next weekend. I thought he did pretty well overall but I thought that Alex Lozowski had a superb last half-an-hour.
“It was great to see him control the game and show his athleticism that he’s got in that last 25-30 minutes especially.”
— Saracens Rugby Club (@Saracens) April 16, 2017
Second-row Kruis was making his first start since December after recovering from injury, and he was partnered in the engine room by Nick Isiekwe who impressed on his Aviva Premiership Rugby debut.
Saints meanwhile took a huge blow to their top-six ambitions, and director of rugby Jim Mallinder could not hide his frustration after losing out to a late try for the third game running.
Northampton were edged out deep in the game by both Leicester Tigers and Wasps in recent weeks, and on this occasion Mallinder lamented not having his senior heads on the pitch after Louis Picamoles and Stephen Myler were forced off injured.
He said: “There is a pattern in that we’ve played well and then lost it in the last few minutes. They’ve all been different games so there are different reasons for that.
“We will and need to keep looking at ourselves in terms of our game management, which clearly wasn’t helped when Picamoles and Myler aren’t on the field.
“They are two of our key decision makers, but we’ve got some good players there and we probably could have been a little bit smarter at times.
“For the third week in a row, we’ve played some good rugby, been ahead and it’s really disappointing to lose in the last few minutes.
“It’s a little bit of composure closing it out and a little bit of luck.”
That comeback winning feeling!
— BT Sport Rugby (@btsportrugby) April 16, 2017
Northampton Saints: Tuala; K Pisi, Burrell, Mallinder, Foden; Myler (Hutchinson 40), Groom (Dickson 66); A Waller (E Waller 68), Hartley (Haywood 66), Brookes (Hill 54); Lawes, Ribbans (Ratuniyarawa 71); Gibson, Wood (c), Picamoles (Harrison 25).
Saracens: Goode; Earle, Bosch, D Taylor (Tompkins 46), Maitland (Ashton 52); Lozowski, Spencer (H Taylor 66); Lamositele (Thompson-Stringer 68), George (c) (Brits 52), Koch (Du Plessis 52); Isikewe (Rhodes 56), Kruis; Conlon (B Vunipola 54), Burger, Wray.
Northampton Saints 25
Tries: Mallinder, Hartley, Pisi
Cons: Myler, Mallinder
Pens: Myler 2
Tries: Ashton, Bosch
Pens: Lozowski 5
Referee: Matthew Carley
Tickets to the Aviva Premiership Rugby Final is on 27 May at Twickenham are now on sale. If you want to have an unforgettable day out at club rugby’s best Cup Final then click here for tickets.