Saracens kept the pressure on Aviva Premiership Rugby leaders Leicester as they fought back from behind – and with men in the sin-bin – to inflict a fourth league loss this season on Northampton.
But the home side were left kicking themselves as their good start faded. It was not the highest scoring first half but it certainly was a good one as Northampton went in only four points ahead and two men better off.
Both sides were willing to throw the ball around and play some open rugby, although the Saints had the upper hand territorially. Saracens came within touching distance of the home line on a couple of occasions but could not find the killer touch to get over.
Fly-half Stephen Myler, for Northampton, and away full-back Alex Goode exchanged 30-metre penalties in the opening six minutes before Saints turned up the heat. A lovely move, which was almost intercepted by Sarries as it reached the left wing, took Northampton to within a metre of the line but lock Dan Vickerman’s roll over from a ruck was ruled out for a knock-on.
However, Saints did get the opening try when they pounded Sarries in the 22 for scrum-half Ryan Powell to spin the ball out and watch as centre Jon Clarke gave a deft dummy to Sarries centres Rodd Penney and Brad Barritt to open a gap and slip through.
Saracens responded by running the ball from halfway, with hooker Schalk Brits prominent. But, with ten minutes to go to the break, Sarries were on the back foot again as prop Carlos Nieto was sin-binned for an illegal act at a ruck, bringing ex-England international Matt Stevens, in only his third week since returning from a ban for drugs offences, off the bench.
Sarries defended danger in the left corner well but soon found themselves with only 13 men on the pitch as fly-half Owen Farrell stupidly took former England fly-half Shane Geraghty out with a late tackle. Northampton probably should have gone for the corner with the resultant penalty but decided that Myler should kick for goal.
He missed and, even with their numerical disadvantage, Sarries started scoring points. Goode kicked two penalties either side of half-time. And he then converted a left-corner try, which went to the video referee, from Barritt after co-centre Penney had charged down a clearance inside the home 22.
It meant Sarries had scored 13 unanswered points while short-handed. Northampton were at sixes and sevens and needed something to get themselves back into the match.
Just before the hour, the home side attacked into the Sarries 22 with relentless thrusts, notably from Paul Diggin, Soane Tonga’uiha and Bruce Reihana, but the pressure came to nothing. Then, from nothing, full-back Greig Tonks found some space on the left and fed Diggin to go over in the corner, although Myler’s touchline conversion went wide.
But after home number eight Roger Wilson was sent to the sin-bin for a high tackle, Saracens took the game by the scruff of the neck again. Stevens went over for a try under the posts, converted by Goode, to put the visitors eight points ahead. And, when Goode landed another penalty in the final 10 minutes, that was that. Barritt landed a 25-metre drop goal in the last minute just to rub salt into the Northampton wounds.