Northampton Saints 8 Racing Metro 32: Tom Vickers’ review and player ratings

DISAPPOINTING DAY - Saints were well beaten by Racing Metro (Picture: Sharon Lucey)

DISAPPOINTING DAY - Saints were well beaten by Racing Metro (Picture: Sharon Lucey)

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Unfortunately for Saints, this was to be another of those galling Franklin’s Gardens days.

One of those European experiences they had hoped were in the past.

One of those encounters where little went right and a lot went wrong.

And one of those matches that meant so much yet yielded so little.

Racing Metro added their name to a list of hurt that includes Scarlets, Ulster and Leinster: sides who have conquered the Gardens in the top tier competition in recent seasons.

However, not only have those sides won, they have won in a fashion that has left Saints fans bamboozled, desperately searching for an explanation for what they have witnessed.

On Saturday, as on those other occasions, Jim Mallinder’s men started with so much hope. So much expectation.

But what they produced was a performance that was well short of anything approaching par.

At times, in fact, it was so far below par that it was an albatross.

With the clock having hit 40, Saints were still more than in the game.

But Juan Imhoff’s tries either side of the break proved to be hammer blows.

The first effort exploited an unusual lack of concentration from Saints and the second was ruthless execution after a wayward George Pisi pass and a Stephen Myler slip.

It was to be a potent mix of missed tackles, mistakes and general malaise from Mallinder’s men, who have dropped from their usually sky high standards in recent weeks.

How they would love to have a chance to bounce back quickly as they did by winning at Ulster and Leinster the week after humbling home defeats to the Irish sides.

But, in Europe at least, that recovery will have to wait.

And the one positive for Saints is that, unlike in recent seasons when big home defeats have cost them dear, they remain in the competition.

Thanks to some neighbourly behaviour from new midlands outfit Wasps, who drew with Leinster before the game against Racing had kicked off, they are in the last eight for the first time since making the final in 2011.

And their character in responding to the opening night defeat to Racing, when, again, bad fortune and bad decision making was their undoing, has been impressive.

They will now be asked to show more steel at the fortress that is Stade Marcel Michelin on the first weekend of April as Clermont Auvergne provide the toughest of last eight tests.

But Saints will not fear the French side.

Just because they have slipped up against Racing on a couple of occasions, it does not make them a bad side.

They know how quickly things can change in rugby. Heck, in the space of a week they went from panel beaters to world beaters by winning in Belfast and Dublin.

And, last March, when they endured a similar blip, they recovered to win the Amlin Challenge Cup and, most importantly, their first Premiership title.

So all is not lost.

Saints remain top of England’s top division.

They remain top of the their LV= Cup pool and on course for a home final at the Gardens.

And they are still in with a fighting chance of winning the Champions Cup.

They will now have to do it the hard way.

But anyone who has watched this Saints team in recent seasons will know that is exactly how they like it.

How they rated...

JAMES WILSON

Injected some spark into proceedings during the first half with a couple of moments of magic, but didn’t get the chance to shine in the second period... 6

KEN PISI

The livewire wing posed plenty of threat to Racing and made a couple of impressive hits in an okay display... 6

GEORGE PISI

Wasn’t his day as he saw a pass go picked up by Imhoff, who scored his second try of the game to take it away from Saints... 5

LUTHER BURRELL

Had a couple of difficult moments in attack and defence, losing a chance to dot down with the line in sight and being bypassed by Racing... 5

GEORGE NORTH

Grabbed himself another try and tried his best to make things happen, but did miss a couple of tackles... 6

STEPHEN MYLER

An unusual off day for the fly-half, whose kicking from tee was not as accurate as normal and who couldn’t get a grip of the game... 5

LEE DICKSON

Enjoyed plenty of early possession, but wasn’t able to get Saints on the front foot as they faded towards the end of the first half... 5

ALEX CORBISIERO

Enjoyed the scrum battle early on as Saints seemed to be getting on top, but Racing eventually gained some momentum... 6

DYLAN HARTLEY

Hit with a yellow card in the first half and though he did his best to make amends during the rest of the game, it was a frustrating afternoon... 5

SALESI MA’AFU

Forced off with a head injury on a day when Saints had started well in the scrum, but gradually lost their way... 5

SAM DICKINSON

Tried to carry the fight to Racing, but it was a difficult day overall and Racing put the squeeze on in the forwards... 5

CHRISTIAN DAY

Usually keeps Saints calm and composed, but couldn’t have his usual influence as the sucker punches kept coming... 5

TOM WOOD

Another man to suffer an injury as his ankle forced him off early in the second half. A passionate display that yielded little... 5

CALUM CLARK

Possibly the pick of the Saints bunch as he tried to fire up his team-mates with some big tackles and determined work at the breakdown... 7

SAMU MANOA

Usually grabs games by the scruff of the neck, but, aside from a few trademark big hits, had little chance to do so... 6

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

PHIL DOWSON (for Wood 44)

A typically hungry display from the flanker, who made a couple of good carries, but who couldn’t prevent Racing gliding in for a few tries after the break... 6

GARETH DENMAN (for Ma’afu 48)

Not an easy situation to come into as Racing were starting to really get on top and Saints were struggling to mount a fightback... 6

ALEX WALLER (for Corbisiero 55)

Tried to get Saints going up front, but there was little anyone could do as Racing took their chances and the points... 6

KAHN FOTUALI’I (for Dickson 55)

The game was all but over by the time he entered the fray and there were few chances to show off his sizeable skill-set... 6

MIKE HAYWOOD (for Hartley 59)

Stepped up for Saints during Hartley’s sin-binning and could not have been said to have done too much wrong overall... 6

CHRON STAR MAN - Jamie Roberts (Racing Metro)