Northampton Saints 15 Scarlets 11: Tom Vickers’ review and player ratings

Alex Waller powered over for a crucial Saints try (pictures: Sharon Lucey)
Alex Waller powered over for a crucial Saints try (pictures: Sharon Lucey)

The old adage that forwards win matches and backs decide the margin of victory certainly rang true at Franklin’s Gardens on Saturday night.

The Saints forwards were impressive throughout as they scrapped for every inch in the Champions Cup victory against Scarlets.

But the backs didn’t quite get the joy they would have liked with only Ken Pisi’s try and a disallowed effort from Luther Burrell showing the class that the more slender men possess.

On a rain-soaked night at the Gardens, Saints ground Scarlets down, refusing to slip up in the final minutes of a match that was just as tough as anticipated.

The Welsh side had headed to Northampton on the crest of a wave, having won six of their seven matches in the Guinness Pro12.

Saints were less confident having lost three of their four Aviva Premiership matches, struggling to display their skill in those encounters, the second half against Newcastle aside.

Ken Pisi scored Saints' first try

Ken Pisi scored Saints' first try

But Jim Mallinder’s men began their European campaign by belying their lowly league standing, playing with the kind of tempo fans had become accustomed to in recent years.

Ken Pisi’s try, made by some clever work by JJ Hanrahan, starting at fly-half for the first time, lifted the gloom created by the defeat to Saracens seven days earlier.

And it seemed Saints were totally back on track when Burrell finished off one of the best team tries seen at the Gardens in recent times.

But when that effort was disallowed and George North was sin-binned for a stamp in the build-up, things started to go slightly awry.

Luther Burrell did a lot of things right for Saints

Luther Burrell did a lot of things right for Saints

Scarlets sensed their opportunity to play on Saints’ fragility, but the away side’s kicking from the tee undid their efforts in open play.

Saints, to their immense credit, stood tall when they had 14 men, not once, but twice, as Jamie Gibson was sin-binned with 15 minutes to go.

And the resilience of Mallinder’s men was made all the more impressive when you consider their lengthy injury list.

Alex Corbisiero, Dylan Hartley, Courtney Lawes, Calum Clark and Jon Fisher were all sidelined, while Victor Matfield has only just arrived in the country and will not be available until the Gloucester game on November 27.

Sam Dickinson was an imposing presence for Saints

Sam Dickinson was an imposing presence for Saints

Add to that an injury to Christian Day, who limped off in the 20th minute, and knocks to James Craig and Tom Wood, and Saints’ gargantuan forward effort becomes heroic.

The backs though, have yet to truly click, with that Burrell try and Hanrahan’s set-up play for Pisi’s try rare glimpses of the greatness they are capable of.

Box-kicking is still an issue, not in terms of frequency necessarily but in terms of accuracy, and it is clear that it will take time for the style Alex King has instilled since his arrival in 2013 to return fully.

But when you have a forward pack capable of putting the squeeze on, the backs can just about afford not to fire to their full potential.

That said, they will have to do exactly that if Saints are to win at Glasgow next Saturday.

And the travelling fans will head there in hope - if not strong expectation - after what was a determined start to this season’s European endeavours at the Gardens on Saturday night.

Stephen Myler came on to see Saints to victory

Stephen Myler came on to see Saints to victory

How they rated...


The most impressive Saints back as he looked secure throughout, kicked fairly well and was a threat with ball in hand... 8


Scored Saints’ first try and although some of his handling wasn’t the best, he still looked lively during his 53 minutes on the field... 7


Not the Samoan’s night and he shook his head in frustration at his personal display when replaced during the second half... 5


Made a huge hit on Steven Shingler and was unfortunate to see his try disallowed on a night when he did plenty of things right... 7


Sin-binned for lashing out in an incident that cost Saints a try, but he put in plenty of effort against his former club... 5


Struggled from the tee with the wind wreaking havoc, but his work in open play and kicking from hand was fairly impressive... 6


One of his box kicks put Saints in trouble as Scarlets used the possession to score, but the skipper’s commitment and determination couldn’t be faulted... 6


Huge effort from the loosehead, who crowned a big personal performance with a crucial second-half score... 8


The hooker was blemish-free in the lineout and also impressed around the park in an energetic display... 8


Is settling in nicely at Saints and had a good night in the scrum. The tighthead is a great signing... 8


Battled through the pain in a big performance that saw him impress in the lineout and in open play... 7


Didn’t have much of a chance to influence the game as he was forced off after just 20 minutes... 6


The yellow card was a blot on the flanker’s copybook, but this was another good showing from the former Leicester Tigers player... 7


A massive personal performance from the England man, who seemed to be everywhere and did some superb work at the breakdown... 8


Showed plenty of fire and desire and was a difficult man for Scarlets to stop when he turned on the power... 7

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)


Put himself about in his most impressive display since joining the club. Made some key tackles and a couple of good carries... 7

AHSEE TUALA (for K Pisi 53)

Couldn’t really get into the game as Scarlets were on top when he came on, and the Saints forwards did the work to grind their team to victory... 6