Racing 33 Northampton Saints 3 - Tom Vickers’ view and player ratings

Luther Burrell had a try controversially disallowed
Luther Burrell had a try controversially disallowed

If this Friday’s game is the last time Saints face Racing 92 for a few seasons, Jim Mallinder’s men won’t be disappointed.

Because during the past 14 months they have seen enough of the Top 14 team to last them a lifetime.

Last October, Saints surrendered a losing bonus point late on in a defeat at Stade Yves-du-Manoir.

Three months later, they were humbled by the same side, losing 32-8 at Franklin’s Gardens.

And on Saturday evening, it was the same story, as Racing ran riot in a 33-3 win.

Saints drowned under the blue and white tide, while the relentless drum-beat of the raucous home fans accompanied their slow suffocation.

It was tough to watch, especially during the opening 20 minutes when the score possibilities appeared endless, just like the home side’s pressure.

Saints did eventually get a grip on the game and had Victor Matfield not thrown an intercept pass and had Luther Burrell not seen a try unfairly disallowed, they may have got closer.

But as it was, that was all conjecture as Racing closed the game down by shutting the door in Saints’ faces for the final 36 minutes.

It was frustrating, because this Northampton team are a proud bunch.

Defeats like this one, the one at home to Racing and the one at Clermont Auvergne in the quarter-finals of the Champions Cup last season are not what they are about.

They are about courage, playing on fine margins and making a habit of coming out on top of them, as they had done in the four games prior to this.

But going from Scarlets, Gloucester, Bath and even Glasgow to Racing is like climbing the Eiffel Tower with Kieran Brookes on your back.

Put simply, they are a few steps up from the teams Saints had faced of late.

And when they can call on a fully fit and firing squad, with the handy addition of New Zealand fly-half Dan Carter, who was making his debut, they are tough to stop.

In fact, if they play to their potential in this season’s competition, it is easy to make a case for them winning it, such is the depth and quality that their mega-bucks has bought.

For Saints, it was another encounter with a French team who are able to prepare accordingly, who have a bottomless pit of talent and who use it to the maximum.

Mallinder has men such as Dylan Hartley, Tom Wood, Calum Clark and James Wilson missing and with so many tough games in succession, you can’t afford to be without so many stars.

You need to be able to rotate how you would like, and Saints’ team selection suggested that they were forced into resting men rather than taking the choice freely.

Christian Day and Jamie Gibson are two forwards who have got through a lot of work this season and they took a breather on the bench.

While Courtney Lawes and Tom Stephenson are at the other end of the spectrum, having not played much of late, and they were chucked in at the deep end.

But Saints have no other choice, with Stephenson in for the injured George Pisi and Lawes thrown into the back row, with so few options there currently.

Not that the players are making excuses.

Lee Dickson stressed after the game that the squad is strong enough to cope.

He did not feel Racing are 30 points better than Saints.

But the fact of it all was that they were.

And they are now 85-22 up on aggregate over the course of the three meetings during the past 14 months.

That is some gap and one which Saints will have to narrow at the Gardens on Friday if they are to keep their hopes of progression alive.

If Racing triumph in Northampton, you would expect them to go on and win all of their games in the pool, meaning Saints would only be able to go through as a best runner-up.

And that is always a tough ask, with other clubs enjoying the comfort of having some of Europe’s lesser forces in their group.

Saints have no such luxury and Glasgow and Scarlets will battle to the end.

So that is what Mallinder’s men must now do.

They must end this Racing dominance and turn the tables on them, just as they did to Ulster and Leinster a few seasons back.

But that is easier said than done.

How they rated...

BEN FODEN

Refused to give up and was still making some big tackles in the closing 10 minutes as Saints sought to avoid further agony... 6

JAMIE ELLIOTT

Was never really able to get in the game and had a tough task on his hands in trying to stop a rampant Juan Imhoff... 5

LUTHER BURRELL

Saw a try chalked off in bizarre circumstances and gave it his all, putting in some big hits and making a couple of decent decisions... 6

TOM STEPHENSON

Battled bravely, putting his body on the line against far bigger men and often matching them. Made a stunning try-saving tackle on Imhoff... 7

GEORGE NORTH

Like Elliott, he never really got in the game and the wing has still not scored a try for Saints this season... 5

JJ HANRAHAN

Continues to look sharp as he creates chances with his direct running and kicks well from hand... 6

LEE DICKSON

Desperately tried to drag his team into the game after they went 14-0 down early on and he succeeded until the vital Racing intercept try... 5

ALEX WALLER

Came off after 47 minutes with the game already done. Had competed well in the scrum up to that point... 6

MIKE HAYWOOD

Never gives anything less than everything and he cut a frustrated figure as he left the field as his side had just come up against a real force... 6

KIERAN BROOKES

Has been having a stunning season at Saints, but Racing stood up to him, with Eddy Ben Arous preventing him from getting his usual dominance... 6

MICHAEL PATERSON

Plenty of perspiration from the lock, who has had a good season so far, but Racing’s second row forwards were impressive... 6

VICTOR MATFIELD

Didn’t look too lively in defence and saw his pass intercepted by Brice Dulin for what was a crucial try before half-time... 4

COURTNEY LAWES

Back from injury after more than a month out, he made some good tackles and tried to put himself about as much as possible... 6

TEIMANA HARRISON

A big game from the flanker, who was widely seen as Saints’ best player. He put in a number of tackles and continues to impress... 7

SAM DICKINSON

Was a really influential figure in the exchanges just before the break as he carried Saints forward, but he was eventually taken off as the coaches gave him a breather... 6

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

ETHAN WALLER (for A Waller 47)

Came on at a time when Saints were really sinking and the prop helped to steady the ship slightly... 6

JAMIE GIBSON (for Dickinson 52)

Made a couple of good carries as he tried to impose himself on a game that was already all but over... 6

PAUL HILL (for Brookes 58)

A good experience for the youngster, even if it did come in a losing cause, as he can store up these memories and continue to add to his immense promise... 6

CHRISTIAN DAY (for Matfield 58)

Saints always miss him when he doesn’t start and this was no different as they lacked the security he offers... 6

STEPHEN MYLER (for Hanrahan 58)

Now has real competition for the fly-half position, with Hanrahan playing well, but he does always add some extra assurance... 6

KAHN FOTUALI’I (for Dickson 58)

Continues in his two games on, two games off policy with Dickson and he couldn’t have an impact on this one... 6

MATTI WILLIAMS (for Haywood 59)

Another chance to soak up a good atmosphere as he came on for the final 20 minutes when Saints were flinging the ball about... 6