Russian winger Vasily Artemyev scored a hat-trick on his debut and Jamie Elliott bagged two tries as Northampton beat Saracens 36-6 at Franklin’s Gardens in the opening round of the LV= Cup.
Northampton came into the match with just two wins in the opening six matches of Aviva Premiership Rugby and were facing a Saracens team on a five-match winning streak. But Saints looked well organised in defence and eager to attack and thoroughly deserved their victory.
And they found a hero in the pacy Artemyev, whose treble included a try with his first touch in Saints colours after joining the club from VVA-Podmoscovye and then missing the start of the season on World Cup duty in New Zealand.
He was one of two World Cup players returning to the Saints starting line-up, with back rower Tom Wood also starting having played two matches in England's ill-fated campaign. His England teammates Dylan Hartley and Courtney Lawes both came off the bench, as did Tongan prop Soane Tonga'uiha. Saracens opted not to use any of their returning internationals.
Saints made the most of the good conditions by showing greater adventure and a willingness to keep the ball in hand. That paid early dividends as they were ahead after just three minutes, Artemyev scoring a nicely taken try on the right wing after a great break by lock James Craig had shredded the Saracens defence. Ryan Lamb's successful conversion gave the home side the early 7-0 lead.
Spencer pulled Saracens back to 7-3 with a penalty but patience from the home side paid off just after the half hour mark. With Saracens centre Kameli Ratuvou sin-binned for a deliberate knock-on, Saints were able to build pressure with good possession deep in the visitors' half.
And it was Artemyev again on the right wing whose pace took him through the Saracens defence for his second try to put his side 14-3 up once Lamb had slotted the conversion. The Russian's pace will clearly be a useful attacking weapon for Saints, who have scored just eight tries in their six Aviva Premiership matches this season.
Spencer struck an easy penalty just before the break to keep his side in touch at 14-6 and limit the damage of Ratuvou's enforced absence.
Saints flirted with unnecessary danger just as half-time beckoned, with an ambitious counter-attack from deep in the own half before calmer heads prevailed and the ball was belted into the sun-drenched Tetley's Stand. The home side took a deserved lead into the changing rooms.
Lamb's drop goal three minutes after the break stretched Saints' lead to 17-6, then the fly-half created Artemyev's third try with a grubber kick which Saracens fullback Ben Ransom failed to collect. The Russian showed his poacher's instinct to grab the loose ball and dive over for his hat-trick. Jamie Elliott's converted try a few moments later wrapped up a bonus point for Saints and made it 29-6.
Returning internationals Lawes, Hartley and Tonga'uiha came on as replacements, providing further steel to a forward pack which had already acquitted itself well in front of the 11,513 crowd.
Elliott bagged his second try with five minutes remaining, Stephen Myler's successful conversion from a difficult angle providing the coup de grace.