Tom Vickers’ Saracens v Northampton Saints view and player ratings

TOUGH VIEWING - Alex King (left), Jim Mallinder (centre) and Dorian West watch Saints struggle in the defeat at Saracens on Sunday (Picture: Linda Dawson)
TOUGH VIEWING - Alex King (left), Jim Mallinder (centre) and Dorian West watch Saints struggle in the defeat at Saracens on Sunday (Picture: Linda Dawson)
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On the day of the London Marathon, Saints were once again reminded that a season is far from a sprint.

Having won 11 league games on the spin before that run ended at Sale at the end of March, Jim Mallinder’s men have now stumbled a little, suffering three successive league defeats.

Put it down to what you will, but they will disappointed to only have taken two points from those games.

However, perspective must be applied in that the teams they have been beaten by are teak-tough.

Some of the Premiership’s steeliest, in fact.

Had Saints suffered losses to the likes of Worcester and Newcastle in their recent malaise, it would be easier to fire criticism their way.

But there is little shame in losing to the sides they have of late.

It’s just that a run of 13 successive wins in all competitions before the LV= Cup final defeat at Exeter set the bar so high.

As Tom Wood pointed out afterwards - they have almost been victims of their own success.

But the straight-talking England flanker was also keen not to make excuses - and there can be no doubt that Saints would have expected more from themselves on Sunday.

Against Leicester and Saracens, they have paid the price for not exiting their own half effectively, inviting pressure from sides who know how to make the most of it.

Some early box-kicking continually handed the ball back to Sarries at Allianz Park and that kept them on the front foot for long periods.

Saints’ discipline was also way off what it should have been, with a string of penalties proving costly.

Saracens were even able to miss a few kicks and still get home.

And it was all so different to the events of last May when Saints stormed Allianz Park to record a memorable victory.

On that day, particularly in the first half, they were almost blemish-free.

They applied early pressure and forced Saracens back with waves of physicality, earning a 17-0 half-time lead before eventually going on to win 27-13.

Saracens have clearly learned from that chastening experience - and the three further sobering defeats to Saints since.

This time, they soaked up monster hits from the likes of Courtney Lawes and Samu Manoa and sprung back to their feet to turn the screw.

It was impressive from the home side, who are now all but assured of a home semi-final and who will almost certainly top the regular-season table.

For Saints, there is far less security.

They can now feel the breath of Leicester Tigers on their collective neck, with just three points separating the teams with three games to go.

With the fixtures both sides have left, you’d have to fancy Saints to stay put in the top two, though recent weeks have cast some doubt over that.

What is important now is regrouping and trying to build some momentum going into May.

Because the race is far from run and a sprint finish lies in wait.

Saints just need to make sure they have enough left in their legs and to retain the belief that they can cross the finish line with their heads held high.

How they rated...

BEN FODEN

Dealt with the high ball well and managed to make a couple of breaks. Not easy, though, with Saints on the back foot for so long... 6

JAMIE ELLIOTT

Ran up a couple of blind alleys to give Saracens the chance to win penalties. Plenty of endeavour, but not the happy occasion he enjoyed at the same ground last May... 5

GEORGE PISI

Unusually flew out of the line and missed a couple of tackles, but did his best to get Saints going forward when possible... 6

LUTHER BURRELL

The big man grabbed himself a try, but there were a couple of misplaced passes and he will surely get better in the weeks to come... 6

GEORGE NORTH

Wasn’t able to get too involved in the game, aside from one rambunctious run before he grabbed his try. Saints couldn’t make the most of their Wales wide man... 6

STEPHEN MYLER

Kicked a couple of late conversions with aplomb to give Saints a chance, but had a mixed return from injury as one poor pass to George Pisi ended up costing the team a try... 6

LEE DICKSON

Tried to gain Saints some territory with a series of early box kicks but it didn’t work out for the team and the scrum-half didn’t have his best game... 5

ALEX WALLER

Was part of a Saints scrum that kept battling and the young prop once again showed plenty of desire... 6

ROSS MCMILLAN

Was picked ahead of Mike Haywood and didn’t let the team down. No major issues in the lineout and stood up to Saracens... 6

SALESI MA’AFU

Helped Saints achieve parity in the scrum, but wasn’t able to make too much ground in the loose... 6

COURTNEY LAWES

Was probably Saints’ best player as he hunted down Saracens and used his sizeable frame to try to push the home side back with some huge hits... 7

CHRISTIAN DAY

Was forced off injured but not before making a couple of big carries and doing his best to turn the tide... 6

CALUM CLARK

Was a huge driving force in the maul that earned a penalty try and there was no shortage of passion from the flanker... 7

TOM WOOD

Kept going and showed his desperation to help Saints relieve the pressure they were put under for long periods... 6

SAMU MANOA

Played his part in the penalty try and also made some big hits as he and the rest of the Saints pack did their best to match the home side’s physical approach... 7

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

KAHN FOTUALI’I (for Dickson 53)

Added some fresh impetus to Saints’ attacking game and the Samoan spark almost helped snatch an unlikely victory... 6

MIKE HAYWOOD (for McMillan 53)

The youngster brought some added energy to proceedings and did his best to push his team back into the game... 6

E WALLER (for A Waller 55)

Put in a fine performance in the Amlin Challenge Cup win at Sale the previous week and is clearly a young man full of confidence... 6

GARETH DENMAN (for Ma’afu 55)

Always a good option from the bench as he pours everything he has into the game and rarely loses out in the scrum... 6

SAM DICKINSON (for C Day 55)

Added some more power to the pack and was in determined mood as he drove forward to help give his side some momentum... 6