Northampton Saints 25 Saracens 20: Tom Vickers’ review and player ratings

Saints fans helped create a record 27,411 stadium attendance at stadium:mk (pictures: Sharon Lucey)

Saints fans helped create a record 27,411 stadium attendance at stadium:mk (pictures: Sharon Lucey)

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Unfamiliarity has bred contempt at Saints in recent months.

There has been a feeling among fans that Jim Mallinder’s men had not been themselves.

That the things they had done so well for so long were starting to slip away.

Though they had motored on in the Aviva Premiership, there was a feeling that - the brilliant win at Bath in February aside - they had not fulfilled their potential since that fantastic derby-day win against Leicester Tigers in December.

On that day, with 14 men after Dylan Hartley’s first-half dismissal, Saints fought like, well, tigers, to overcome their old foe.

They were ferocious in the set piece and some of their running rugby was breathtaking, with Luther Burrell bombarding the Leicester defence and Stephen Myler pulling the strings.

There were others who had a huge impact in that memorable match-up.

But those two players are highlighted for a reason.

That is because, on Saturday, at stadium:mk, they played leading roles once again to steer a reinvigorated Saints team past Saracens.

In the early stages, Mallinder’s men remained unrecognisable from the team that had claimed the league title last season.

Their scrum shook, as it had in sizeable recent defeats at Clermont and Exeter, and their defence again failed to function.

In an unfamiliar white and red kit, the sales of which helped raise funds for Help for Heroes, and in an unfamiliar home, stadium:mk, supporters could have been forgiven for feeling they were watching a different side.

But what happened after the break ended those thoughts.

Because the Saints side of old returned with a vengeance.

The scrum was back to its best, inspiring flashbacks to 2011 Heineken Cup knock-out matches on Milton Keynes soil, when Saints crushed Ulster and Perpignan.

Myler, who had failed to register a single point at Clermont and Exeter, rediscovered his kicking boots, driving his team back into a game which they had been behind in at the break.

And Burrell, who had superbly set up Samu Manoa’s try in the first half, continued to keep his team on the front foot.

It was fitting that a game billed as the ‘Best of English’ brought the best out of the likes of Myler, Burrell and Dylan Hartley, who will aim to be in Stuart Lancaster’s World Cup squad.

And it is ironic that Saints should take a huge step towards securing a home play-off semi-final at a ground that was their abode for one game only.

But what mattered most to Mallinder and his players was the feeling that they were back on track.

That, as they did last season, they are getting back to their best form at exactly the right time.

With two games of the regular season to go, they are nine points clear of third-placed Saracens.

And with London Welsh up next at Franklin’s Gardens, top spot should be theirs.

That would be something new for a Saints team who are now back in old habits.

How they rated...

AHSEE TUALA

Came in for his first league start for Saints and did well, especially with the boot, putting his team in some good positions. Made up for an early defensive lapse... 7

KEN PISI

Razor-sharp as ever, the speedy wing was an important tool in helping to gain territory and showed his desire late on to keep Saracens penned in... 7

GEORGE PISI

Fancy footwork caused problems for Saracens, who had to be on their toes to stop the Samoan centre... 7

LUTHER BURRELL - CHRON STAR MAN

In a game billed the ‘Best of English’, it was this man who claimed that accolade on the pitch with a scything run setting up Saints’ try and a powerful overall performance... 8

JAMIE ELLIOTT

Claimed one high ball brilliantly to keep Saints on the front foot, but it was not easy for the wingers to break through as Saracens defended well... 6

STEPHEN MYLER

Back to his assured best as he landed six penalties and a conversion, with only a clearance kick that was charged down blotting his copybook... 8

KAHN FOTUALI’I

Showed great speed of mind and hand as he kept the tempo high for Saints, probing for openings during his time on the field... 7

ALEX CORBISIERO

Didn’t have things all his own way in the scrum but battled around the park and eventually helped to turn the tide... 7

DYLAN HARTLEY

The skipper put in a big performance, showing huge desire to drag his team back from a half-time deficit... 8

SALESI MA’AFU

Was locked in an intriguing scrum battle during the first half, with Saracens bossing it, but he responded early in the second half... 6

COURTNEY LAWES

An important influence on proceedings, the lock showed just why he was so missed at Exeter... 8

CHRISTIAN DAY

Such a steadying influence, the lock kept things ticking over in the set piece and also displayed his combative nature in open play... 7

TOM WOOD

Drove his team forward with some big carries and also did great work in the tackle and at the breakdown... 8

CALUM CLARK

Full of energy once again, showing that he should be part of England’s World Cup plans at one of the World Cup venues... 7

SAMU MANOA

The Saracens slayer was at it again as he grabbed a try and put in a hugely physical performance... 8

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

GARETH DENMAN (for Ma’afu 48)

Really impressive shift from the tighthead, who played a big part in turning the tide in the scrum... 7

LEE DICKSON (for Fotuali’i 55)

Came on to make his 200th appearance for the club and this was one of his most valuable cameos... 7