Nick Ramsey’s last-gasp try handed Saracens the U18s crown at the Premiership Rugby/RFU U18 Academy Finals Day, as they edged out defending champions Northampton Saints 23-19 in an exhilarating final.
There was never more than one score in it at Allianz Park, and the sides went in level at half-time after tries for George Furbank and Ben Richardson were cancelled out by Ethan Wadleton and the boot of the excellent Max Malins.
And after replacement James Grayson looked to have kicked Saints to glory, two late tries from Billy Walker and Ramsey stole the show for Sarries.
The U18 Finals Day is a showcase of the best under-18s in the country, where the next generation of Aviva Premiership Rugby and England players look to put their hands up for professional contracts in the future.
The event gives these players the chance to represent their club at a Premiership Rugby stadium, with several almost certain to progress into their first-teams over the next 18-months.
Saracens won a friendly encounter 32-10 between the two sides back in December, and got off to a perfect start again when Wadleton crashed over in the left corner with just four minutes on the clock.
But the defending champions mustered a sensational response as full-back Furbank finished off a superb team move, Northampton building the phases and George Cox getting the key break.
The end-to-end start to the game continued with both sides attacking fiercely, particularly Saracens prop Ralph Adams-Hale who demonstrated some startling pace with a 11th minute break.
Malins added to Saracens’ lead with a 12th minute penalty with Saints penalised at the breakdown, but Northampton were quick to respond again four minutes later.
Richardson drew Saints level as he sold the Sarries defence with a well-executed dummy at the breakdown, and dived over himself from a metre out.
Malins was at the centre of everything for Saracens and the fly-half surged through on 22 minutes, before being obstructed as he chased down his own chip. The resulting 5-metre scrum led to nothing as Sarries knocked on.
But Malins kicked the hosts ahead again with 26 minutes on the clock when Saints were penalised for not releasing, before Grayson, on for Gregor Haldane, levelled with a penalty of his own to take the scores to 13-13 at the interval.
Northampton came out blazing in the second-half, and after Grayson’s wonderful 50-metre kick into the corner only some wolfpack-style defending from Saracens on their own try-line kept them from scoring again.
But Grayson slotted them ahead from close to the sideline on 45 minutes with Saracens offside, before another infringement from the hosts allowed him to give Saints a 6-point lead with just under 20 minutes left.
Saracens were not ready to lie down just yet however, and after Malins put them into the corner, 12 men were involved in the catch-and-drive that saw Walker somehow get the ball down in the right corner.
Malins’ conversion attempt hit the crossbar to add to the tension, with Sarries within a point heading into the final ten minutes.
Northampton showed why they were defending champions, keeping hold of possession well and running down the clock, but a knock-on in their own territory proved costly as they relinquished possession.
And with just four minutes left on the clock Malins turned provider once again, as replacement Nick Ramsey dived over in the corner for the decisive score.
Northampton Saints: George Furbank, Adam Shaw, Jamel Hamilton (Tosin Segun 67), Freddie McKibbin, Rotimi Segun, Gregor Haldane (James Grayson 27), Ben Richardson (Rob Smith 67); Ryan Eveleigh (Jake Byrne 61), James Fish (Rob Marmion 67), Luc Jeannot (Ehren Painter 61), Alex Moon (Toby Trinder 60), John Hawkins, Tim Cardall, Will Allman, George Cox (Matt Watson 67)
Saracens: Will Kaye, Alex Gilham (Nick Ramsey 51), Dominic Morris, Fili Savou, Euan Dickinson Earl (Jack Longhurst 60), Max Malins, Alex Patton (James Lennon 51); Ralph Adams Hale (Seb Brownhill 36, Matthew Brooks 63), Harrison King (Aston Lester 44), Billy Walker, Danny Cutmore, Nick Isiekwe, Jacob Moody (Alex Munday 36), Ethan Wadleton, Ben Earl (Joe Hughes 63)
Tries: Furbank, Richardson
Penalties: Grayson (3)
Tries: Wadleton, Walker, Ramsey
Penalties: Malins (2)
Referee: Matthew O’Grady