Spirited Saints unable to smash Saracens hoodoo as Strettle double seals it

Saints suffered late heartache against Saracens as two David Strettle tries settled an enthralling encounter at Franklin's Gardens.

Saturday, 15th September 2018, 6:02 pm
Updated Saturday, 15th September 2018, 6:08 pm
Taqele Naiyaravoro made his Saints debut (pictures: Kirsty Edmonds)

Strettle scored twice in as many minutes to seal a 38-27 victory for Saracens - their sixth in as many visits to Northampton - but Saints pushed them all the way.

Dan Biggar's penalty had put Saints 27-26 up with just 10 minutes to go, but Saracens refused to relent, and they had the final say thanks to Strettle.

It was another bonus-point win at the Gardens for the Barnet-based side, who also sent their other wing, Alex Lewington, over twice.

Courtney Lawes was in action for Saints

Scrum-half Ben Spencer also scored for the men in red.

But Saints could be proud of their display, having been beaten so heavily in all four meetings with Saracens last season.

The black, green and gold scored through Piers Francis, Dylan Hartley and Ben Franks, with Biggar adding three conversions and two penalties in a fine personal display.

But it wasn't to be enough as Saracens showed champion spirit once again, to ensure their 100 per cent record remained in place.

Teimana Harrison took the fight to Saracens

Saints had gone into the game on the back of a 25-18 win against Harlequins eight days earlier, and the home side were boosted by the presence of debutant Taqele Naiyaravoro.

Naiyaravoro was given a warm welcome before kick-off and when the action began, he immediately gave his team, and their fans, a lift.

The behemoth wing brushed off one attempted tackle before offloading to Ahsee Tuala, with the noise levels rising and Saints' intensity being ramped up by the second.

Saracens were forced to concede a string of penalties and Saints thought they had scored when Luther Burrell dived to ground a Biggar grubber, but play was pulled back.

Cobus Reinach set up the first try for Piers Francis

Still Saints came and Saracens eventually paid the price when hooker Jamie George was sin-binned for collapsing the maul.

And it wasn't long before the home side were celebrating behind the posts as Cobus Reinach picked the ball up from a scrum and Francis spotted a gap, parting the sea of red Saracens shirts to score.

Biggar made the easy conversion to hand his side a 7-0 lead, but Saracens threatened to respond immediate, kicking to the corner before fluffing the lineout opportunity.

Saracens kept knocking on the door, but Saints kept knocking them back.

And after Billy Vunipola was penalised for a blatant offside, Biggar slotted a penalty to put his team 10 points up after 25 minutes.

But Saracens did respond when Saints were caught out from a box kick as Lewington was afforded the freedom of Franklin's Gardens to chase the ball down and score unchallenged.

Spencer, kicking in the absence of England fly-half Owen Farrell, missed the conversion to leave Saints 10-5 ahead, but Saracens were level when the ball was worked wide to Lewington to score his second.

The conversion was again missed by Spencer to leave the scores level at half-time as Saints repelled one last Saracens shove just before the break.

But Saracens soon scored after the restart as a relentless attack concluded with Spencer spotting a gap and diving over to score.

The scrum-half added the easy conversion on this occasion and Saints' steel was about to be severely tested.

Reinach was soon penalised, giving Saracens a penalty chance, which Spencer took to extend his side's lead to 10 points.

Saints had barely had the ball since half-time but when they did finally manage to put some pressure on, Billy Vunipola was yellow carded for repeat offences.

And Saints soon took advantage from a trademark lineout drive, forcing hooker Hartley over the line for a hugely welcome riposte.

Biggar converted to a loud roar and the gap was just three points with 23 minutes remaining.

Alex Goode landed a penalty with Billy Vunipola still off the field to make it 23-17, but Saints refused to be deterred.

And after a lovely piece of play from Biggar, who kicked ahead and gathered, Saints produced a patient move that resulted in prop Franks scoring his first Saints try.

Biggar converted to give his team a 24-23 lead with 17 minutes to go, and the Gardens fans were in full voice.

Saracens quickly regained the lead with a Goode penalty from in front of the posts, but Biggar responded with an effort of his own to put Saints back in front.

But Saints failed to deal with the restart and after Alex Mitchell struggled to get any distance on a box kick, Saracens pounced, with Strettle finding space to score.

Goode converted well from out wide to make it 33-27 with seven minutes of a thrilling match remaining.

And Strettle settled it with his second score in as many minutes after a fine run from Liam Williams cut Saints apart.

Goode missed the conversion and Saints continued to come forward until the end, but Saracens shut the door to send their supporters home happy once again.

Saints: Tuala; Naiyaravoro (Mallinder 57), Burrell (Symons 47), Francis, Collins; Biggar, Reinach (Mitchell 61); Waller (cc) (van Wyk 61), Hartley (cc) (Haywood 61), Painter (Franks 47); Ribbans, Lawes; Haskell (Gibson 47), Brüssow, Harrison (Ratuniyarawa 65).

Saracens: Williams; Strettle, Tompkins, Barritt (c), Lewington; Goode, Spencer (Wigglesworth 50); M Vunipola (Barrington 74), George (Tolofua 76), Koch (Lamositele 67); Itoje, Skelton (Kruis 50); Isiekwe, Rhodes, B Vunipola (Earl 67).

Referee: JP Doyle

Attendance: 12,317