Owen Farrell stepped off the bench to see Saracens to a nail-biting 17-16 victory over Northampton Saints – but they were made to work until the dying seconds at Stadium:MK.
Sarries, playing at their sixth different home this term, started as their form suggested they would, taking the game to Northampton with an early John Smit try.
But Saints, smarting from their 18-9 defeat against Harlequins last time out, responded with a Phil Dowson effort and some expert Stephen Myler kicking – the fly-half finishing with 11 points.
But Farrell, on as a 50th-minute replacement, slotted two penalties late on just as Charlie Hodgson’s kicking had gone off the boil to secure their sixth win in seven games – with Myler missing a last-gasp penalty with the final kick that could have snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.
A clever kick from Hodgson had Saints in all kinds of trouble on seven minutes, and from the resulting lineout in the corner the hosts broke the deadlock.
Smit was the one who burrowed over from the drive, but Hodgson failed to add the extras.
Three minutes later Hodgson made amends by slotting over a penalty as Sarries threatened to run away with the game before Saints had the chance to settle.
Mark McCall’s troops were at their flowing best and moments later a storming run from David Strettle brought a penalty for a high tackle by Ben Foden.
Instead of going for the posts Hodgson kicked for the corner but Saints stood up to the challenge of the drive this time – but Hodgson still had the final say with another penalty.
It took time, 25 minutes to be exact, but Northampton finally ignited through Dowson.
Dominic Waldouck was the catalyst, he targeted Hodgson off the back of a scrum and was then supported by Ken Pisi who continued the charge towards the Saracens line.
Dowson completed the move by powering through expertly and Myler’s conversion got the visitors within four points.
Another incisive break from the scrum brought more rewards for Saints – this time three points from the boot of Myler following an infringement from Will Fraser at the breakdown – and the visitors went in trailing 11-10 at half-time.
Four minutes after the restart Hodgson elected to go for the posts for Sarries from long range rather than kick to touch, and his attempt fell short.
The scrum was proving to be a profitable source of joy for Saints, and after gaining a penalty Myler gave them the lead for the first time on 48 minutes.
Hodgson, who started the game so impressively, fell short with two further penalties as the momentum appeared to be swinging in Northampton’s favour.
That feeling was heightened when Myler landed a huge kick of his own, from upwards of 50 metres, with a quarter of the game remaining to extend Saints’ lead to five points.
But England fly-half Farrell took over kicking duties from Hodgson and slotted his first attempt with 19 minutes remaining and recaptured the lead – 17-16 – seven minutes later with his second.
Even then the result was still in doubt, Myler lined up another monster kick with the clock ticking just past the 80-minute mark and he struck the bar from fully 57 metres – a dramatic end to a pulsating match.