Northampton Saints 9 Racing 9: Tom Vickers’ review and player ratings

Teimana Harrison put in a huge performance against Racing (pictures: Kirsty Edmonds)

Teimana Harrison put in a huge performance against Racing (pictures: Kirsty Edmonds)

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It wasn’t quite the dazzling December turnaround of years gone by, but Saints’ response against Racing 92 was certainly a spirited one.

And had they been a bit more clinical, they would have added the name of the French side to those of Ulster and Leinster, who both sampled the full force of Northampton’s avengers.

Saints had felt that the 33-3 reverse at Stade Yves-du-Manoir was a harsh reflection of their performance - and they certainly set the record straight at Franklin’s Gardens.

They were strong in defence, but so were Racing, who almost produced the ideal away display as they stayed in touch and gave themselves a chance of winning it late on.

But Saints weren’t to be beaten this time, and they even felt they should have won this game themselves, such was their territorial dominance during the second half.

That they didn’t owed much to the loss of Kieran Brookes, with the England prop forced off during the first half, leaving young gun Paul Hill up against it in the scrum.

Hill handled himself well, but there is no substitute for experience, and Brookes has far more.

One crucial scrum five metres from the Racing line would have had the former Newcastle tighthead licking his lips in anticipation, but as it was, Hill was edged out and Saints lost it.

Racing relieved the pressure and ensured there were few other scares as they saw the game out, to preserve their place at the summit of Pool 3.

The French side also have a game in hand and will be confident of going through to the quarter-finals unbeaten.

As for Saints, they now need to rack up a couple of big wins against Glasgow and Scarlets to keep themselves in contention for a best runners-up place.

But if they are to get that, they are going to have to sharpen up in attack.

Jim Mallinder’s men have only scored two tries in four games at Franklin’s Gardens this season and only registered one effort in their past four matches.

That came at Bath, where George Ford gifted Luther Burrell an interception score, so it is clear that Saints are really struggling to create opportunities at the moment.

Blame the weather, blame the strength of the opposition, but there is no doubt that Northampton expect to be doing better in the tries-scored column.

That will be a vital area to work on in the coming weeks, but Saints can take positives from the fact that, the defeat at Racing aside, their defence has held up well.

They have only lost one of their past six games, and they have had a far from simple run.

So there are positives, but also plenty of things to work on.

And Saints will now be desperate to use this Racing recovery as a platform to build another hot streak on.

When they beat Leinster in December 2013, Mallinder’s men racked up an unbeaten run that totalled 13 games.

And that would do very nicely as Saints bid to stay in the hunt at home and abroad.

How they rated...

BEN FODEN

Made one vital tackle to stop Racing scoring, but he wasn’t able to have the kind of impact he wanted in attack... 6

JAMIE ELLIOTT

Came in for his 100th Saints appearance and showed real determination to gain ground. A couple of breaks did just that and he also competed well for high balls... 7

GEORGE PISI

Charged down a Brice Dulin kick brilliantly as Saints almost scored during the second half and the Samoan certainly put himself about... 7

LUTHER BURRELL

Was desperate to make an impact for his team, continually carrying the fight to Racing, but they coped well with the England man... 6

GEORGE NORTH

Is working so hard for the cause, but he just isn’t being afforded the space any winger needs to thrive... 6

STEPHEN MYLER

Kicked well and also showed a nice turn of foot with a first-half dummy. Tried to get Saints moving... 7

LEE DICKSON

Loves to play an up-tempo game, but Racing slowed the ball down at the breakdown and the scrum-half was frustrated... 6

ALEX WALLER

Plenty of power and desire from the prop, who put in a huge shift in a bid to get Saints dominance up front... 7

MIKE HAYWOOD

The hooker should be having a bit of a rest during Christmas week because he is carrying the load at the moment, again playing 80 minutes in a big display... 7

KIERAN BROOKES

Was forced off with a knee injury during the first half and Saints will be desperately hoping it is not too serious... 6

COURTNEY LAWES

The England lock tried to get Saints on the front foot with some big carries and he is working his way back to full fitness in only his second game back... 7

VICTOR MATFIELD

Was influential early on, pushing Racing back with some good carries and his experience is vital... 7

JAMIE GIBSON

Never fails to impress and is already a key member of this Saints team, again showing his worth here... 7

TEIMANA HARRISON - CHRON STAR MAN

The flanker played really well in France and he was perhaps even better here, throwing himself around the pitch in a superb showing... 8

SAM DICKINSON

A really influential showing from the big No.8, who is having a great season and who keeps getting better... 8

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

PAUL HILL (for Brookes 29)

A really tough task for the young tighthead and Racing exposed him a little at times, but he also had his moments and can be pleased with his efforts... 6

CHRISTIAN DAY (for Matfield 52)

One experienced player replaced another and he was important in ensuring Saints kept their heads late on... 6

KAHN FOTUALI’I (for Dickson 52)

Saints introduced him in a bid to add a spark to their attacking game, but Racing were too tough a nut to crack... 6