A DRAMATIC fightback saw Saracens snatch victory from the jaws of defeat on Sunday as they beat Northampton 27-25 in the Aviva Premiership.
Having rested a number of key players ahead of next weekend’s European Champions Cup against Munster, Sarries were well below their best and appeared to be heading for a rare defeat when they trailed 25-12 with little more than ten minutes remaining.
But a try from Chris Ashton gave them renewed hope, and although Alex Lozowksi missed the conversion, his fifth successful penalty brought them back to within five points.
And Sarries’ comeback was to end in triumph as, two minutes from time, a flowing move finished with Marcelo Bosch crossing the line to level the scores – with Lozowski adding the conversion to seal a win which keeps alive their hopes of securing a home semi-final in the play-offs.
“Our game wasn’t up to the required level for the first 60 minutes as our set-piece wasn’t dominant,” said director of rugby Mark McCall. “We had a decent bench and we got a bit cross after we conceded a soft third try. We got up a head of steam in the third quarter as we carried a lot harder.
“We knew we had to put them under pressure as they’ve lost a few games of late in the final minutes and Alex helped by having a superb second half.
“It was a lesson for us as the big things have to be right, and they’ll need to be against Munster next Saturday if we are to win there.”
Although the match was officially a home game for Northampton, it was played at Stadium MK in Milton Keynes.
But the change in venue did not adversely affect the hosts as they survived some early pressure before opening the scoring by claiming the first try of the match on six minutes.
Some terrific build-up play culminated in Stephen Myler producing a kick forward which Harry Mallinder collected before racing to the line for a try which Myler converted.
With the hosts continuing to pile on the pressure, Sarries had Duncan Taylor sin-binned for an offence close to his own line on 17 minutes.
Myler added the resulting penalty, but the visitors responded well to temporarily being reduced to 14 men and opened their account on 22 minutes courtesy of a Lozowski penalty.
The rest of the first half passed without much incident, but the two kickers did both slot over one penalty each to leave Northampton 13-6 ahead at the interval.
The hosts extended their lead two minutes into the second half when Dylan Hartley touched down following a driving maul from a line-out.
Mallinder, who took over the kicking duties after Myler went off injured at half-time, added the conversion, but two Lozowski penalties kept Saracens in contention.
Northampton then seemed to take a firm grip on the match by scoring their third try on 53 minutes when Ken Pisi collected Ahsee Tuala’s pass and touched down in the corner, but Mallinder crucially missed the conversion to keep Sarries within two scores.
And the visitors were given renewed hope 11 minutes from time when Billy Vunipola surged forward before the ball was moved out wide, where Ashton collected Nick Tompkins’ pass to score.
Lozowski was unable to add the conversion but he did slot over a penalty on 76 minutes to bring Sarries back within five points.
The momentum was very much with the visitors by this stage and they struck the decisive blow with time running out as a fine move saw Lozowski break free before an overlap was created and Bosch surged through to cross the line and level the scores. Lozowski held his nerve to add the conversion and enable Sarries to snatch the win.
Northampton: Tuala, K Pisi, Burrell, Mallinder, Foden, Myler (Hutchinson 41), Groom (Dickson 66), A Waller (E Waller 68), Hartley (Haywood 66), Brookes (Hill 54), Lawes, Ribbans (Ratuniyarawa 71), Gibson, Wood, Picamoles (Harrison 25).
Saracens: Goode, Earle, Bosch, D Taylor (Tompkins 46), Maitland (Ashton 52), Lozowksi, Spencer (H Taylor 66), Lamositele (Thompson-Stringer 68), George (Brits 52), Koch (du Plessis 51), Isikewe (Rhodes 56), Kruis, Conlon (B Vunipola 54), Burger, Wray.