Stret­tle seals ding- dong bat­tle with two late tries

The Observer - Sport - - Rugby Union Gallagher Premiership -

Much was made in the buildup of the size of Northamp­ton’s Aus­tralian in­ter­na­tional wing Taqele Nai­yar­a­voro, but even ap­proach­ing 20st he was no heav­ier than the four de­feats the Saints en­dured against Sara­cens last sea­son in the league and Euro­pean Cham­pi­ons Cup.

They leaked 237 points and 33 tries then and while the cham­pi­ons recorded an­other bonus- point vic­tory over the Saints, this was very dif­fer­ent. They were 10 points down be­fore ac­quaint­ing them­selves with the ball and the lead changed hands five times be­fore Sara­cens pulled away in the fi nal 10 min­utes.

Northamp­ton scored all but the fi­nal three of their points when Sara­cens had a for­ward in the sin- bin. The Eng­land hooker Jamie Ge­orge was the fi rst to see yellow 14 min­utes into the match, pun­ished for his side’s se­rial maul col­laps­ing. Saints took the lead with a try from a scrum in front of the Sara­cens’ posts, close to the 22- me­tre line.

Dan Big­gar lined up di­rectly be­hind the set- piece with the full- back, Ah­see Tuala, lurk­ing close to him to leave de­fend­ers guess­ing about the di­rec­tion of the at­tack. As the scrum wheeled, Northamp­ton quickly moved the ball left, against the fl ow of the de­fence and the cen­tre Piers Fran­cis, in front of Ed­die Jones, fi xed the de­fence on an out­side line and two tack­lers col­lided as he cut in­side to score.

Ge­orge was wait­ing to come back on when Billy Vu­nipola came into a ruck from the side and Big­gar made it

Billy Vu­nipola’s tackle had all the im­pact of a fl ying in­sect on a For­mula One car in full fl ow

10- 0. Sara­cens’ few at­tacks had ended pre­ma­turely through han­dling er­rors or the bur­glary skills of Hein­rich Brus­sow and James Haskell at the break­down. They were miss­ing the au­thor­ity of their in­jured fly- half, Owen Far­rell, but his re­place­ment Alex Goode grad­u­ally grew into the game.

Goode stood fl at and at­tacked the line, com­mit­ting de­fend­ers be­fore spread­ing play. Northamp­ton, for all the smart think­ing in Fran­cis’s try, were at their most men­ac­ing driv­ing mauls but Sara­cens were more com­fort­able in space and drew level with two tries by the wing Alex Lew­ing­ton in four min­utes.

The fi rst came when Goode fi el­ded Big­gar’s kick just out­side his 22. He was en­veloped by three tack­lers, but smug­gled the ball out and when Ben Spencer took pos­ses­sion he spot­ted that Nai­yar­a­voro and Tuala were out of po­si­tion and that there was no cover on Northamp­ton’s right wing. He kicked long and Lew­ing­ton gath­ered the ball as it crossed the try­line.

His sec­ond came af­ter Sara­cens took play through mul­ti­ple phases with un­hur­ried pass­ing. Northamp­ton, hav­ing been given fi rst use of the slope, pre­ferred to play for po­si­tion. Nai­yar­a­voro would not have seen much less of the ball had he been in Aus­tralia: he re­ceived it twice in the open­ing half and the sec­ond time was a thun­der­ous oc­ca­sion in front of the main stand that left it jud­der­ing.

The wing had eased through Liam Wil­liams with­out feel­ing the full- back’s chal­lenge be­fore he saw Billy Vu­nipola in front of him. The Eng­land No8 is not used to de­fer­ring to any­one when it comes to a trial of strength. He led with his right shoul­der, thump­ing into an ob­ject that had by now gath­ered mo­men­tum. He had all the im­pact of a fl ying in­sect on the front grille of a For­mula One car in full fl ow.

Spencer had given Sara­cens a 10- point ad­van­tage with a try from a ruck and a penalty. But a yellow card was the cat­a­lyst for Northamp­ton. When Billy Vu­nipola was sent to the sin- bin for en­ter­ing a driv­ing maul from the side, Saints were in the mid­dle of a pe­riod of fi ve li­ne­outs from penal­ties that ended when Dy­lan Hart­ley was pushed over the line. A Goode penalty gave the cham­pi­ons respite but Harry Mallinder’s long pass set up Ben Franks for the try that put the home side in front.

Goode and Big­gar ex­changed penal­ties but as the home sup­port pre­pared to bury the ghosts of last sea­son, two David Stret­tle tries gave Sara­cens an­other bonus point vic­tory. They were mea­sured when it mat­tered and they had to be.

David Stret­tle is stopped by Northamp­ton’s Court­ney Lawes but the vet­eran Sara­cens wing had the last laugh

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