Saints snatch it from Sarries
Sat, 31 May 2014 16:49
A last-gasp try from replacement Alex Waller in the second-half of extra time decided a match of the ages by 24-20 and handed Northampton Saints their first-ever Premiership title at the expense of Saracens.
Owen Farrell, who departed the game with an injury in the second half, made three of four penalties but fine tries from Ben Foden and George Pisi had Saints homing in on a landmark victory at Twickenham.
Sarries battled back in the last ten minutes through Marcelo Bosch but amazingly, replacement Charlie Hodgson's conversion bounced back off the upright to keep the score at 14-14.
It boiled down to extra time - an Premiership final first - but with the clock deep into the red and with Saracens up through a Hodgson penalty, Waller clinched a dramatic victory.
Referee JP Doyle needed to consult the TMO but after several replays, Waller was adjudged to have grounded the ball in front of the posts.
In the Saracens line-up, Richard Barrington slotted in at loosehead to replace the injured Mako Vunipola while Neil de Kock was given the nod over Richard Wigglesworth at scrum-half.
At No.9 for the Saints Kahn Fotuali'i was the preferred choice ahead of Lee Dickson, while Salesi Ma'afu returned to the fold following his one-game suspension.
The game started at breakneck speed as Marcelo Bosch's attempted clearance was charged down by a Northampton side hungry for success following their Twickenham disappointment to Leicester Tigers last year.
But it was Sarries' pack who struck first, as Saints were unable to cope with their rolling maul to give Owen Farrell a first shot on goal.
The England flyhalf was calmness personified in scoring the first three points of the game and bisected the posts with another penalty moments later after ill-discipline at the ruck.
He could not make it three out of three however - missing a long-range effort after Sam Dickinson strayed offside - and on the half-hour mark, the Saints burst to life.
Ken Pisi shook off three defenders to launch a break from almost try-line to try-line, a penalty eventually being called which Stephen Myler opted to kick into touch.
And the door was unlocked for Ben Foden to storm over the whitewash following a superb pass from Luther Burrell - while Myler was on hand to complete the conversion and edge Jim Mallinder's men ahead.
Saints withstood a barrage of Sarries pressure - including the immovable Courtney Lawes - to see out the half, but the pattern followed suit after the break.
Northampton were once again pinged in Farrell territory and he promptly restored a two-point advantage.
The hits continue to fly in, with Jacques Burger typically at the heart of things, before Matt Stevens left the field for the last time in a Saracens shirt as his Premiership career came to an end.
Then on the hour-mark Saints turned the match on its head once more, as an inch-perfect grubber from Myler was chased down by Pisi who finished with aplomb.
Sarries nearly hit back almost immediately when Farrell found his way across, but after lengthy deliberation with the TMO, referee JP Doyle ruled a forward pass by Alex Goode in the build-up.
In further bad news for Sarries, Farrell was forced out of the game after sustaining an injury during his celebration.
Lawes welcomed replacement Charlie Hodgson into the game with a thundering hit and it took similar efforts from every Saint to hold Mark McCall's troops at bay.
But finally, after cycling through an umpteenth amount of phases, Sarries' concerted pressure paid off after Bosch found a gap in the right-hand corner to pummel through.
Hodgson's conversation could hardly have been nearer touch and his sterling effort missed by the width of the post.
With just one score needed to clinch the title neither side could find the breakthrough - culminating in the Premiership final's first-ever extra time.
Ten minutes each way would decide the winner but Saints held the advantage - their two tries to one deciding the match should the scores have remained level.
Myler had not had a sighter from tee all day but showed poise to get off the mark, but Hodgson immediately tied things up with his first penalty after an infringement at the scrum.
Vunipola clearly still had the legs in the second half of extra time, forcing a penalty through a deliberate knockdown after breaking the Saints line.
That set up Hodgson to pound the ball through the posts from 25 metres out - and left Saracens with the task of holding firm for victory.
One almighty push from Northampton on the try-line was referred to the TMO and after several minutes of deliberation, referee Doyle signalled for the try as Saints fans went into raptures at Twickenham.
Pens: Farrell 3, Hodgson 2
Tries: Foden, G Pisi, A Waller
Cons: Myler 3
Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 David Strettle, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Neil de Kock, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Jacques Burger, 6 Kelly Brown, 5 Mouritz Botha, 4 Steve Borthwick (captain), 3 Matt Stevens, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Richard Barrington.
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Rhys Gill, 18 James Johnston, 19 Alistair Hargreaves, 20 Jackson Wray, 21 Richard Wigglesworth, 22 Charlie Hodgson, 23 Chris Wyles.
Northampton: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Ken Pisi, 13 George Pisi, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 George North, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Kahn Fotuali'i, 8 Sam Dickinson, 7 Tom Wood (captain), 6 Calum Clark, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Samu Manoa, 3 Salesi Ma'afu, 2 Mike Haywood, 1 Alex Corbisiero.
Replacements: 16 Dylan Hartley, 17 Alex Waller, 18 Tom Mercey, 19 Christian Day, 20 Phil Dowson, 21 Lee Dickson, 22 James Wilson, 23 Tom Stephenson.
Referee: JP Doyle
Assistant Referees: Wayne Barnes, Paul Dix
TMO: Graham Hughes
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