Saints 24 Saracens 29: Tom Vickers’ review and player ratings

Lee Dickson shows his disappointment (pictures: Kirsty Edmonds)
Lee Dickson shows his disappointment (pictures: Kirsty Edmonds)

This time, Saints were to win the battle but not the war.

This time, Saracens were the ones celebrating at the end of another bruising contest.

This time, Franklin’s Gardens, not Twickenham, was where the season was to end.

Having topped the regular-season table for the first time in their history, Saints were to fall short in the Aviva Premiership play-offs.

Last year, there was a kind of magical momentum that carried Jim Mallinder’s men, who had finished second, past Leicester and Saracens to glory.

But this time, Saints’ tag of champions and table-toppers only served to provide added inspiration for a Saracens team who avenged their defeat in last season’s showpiece.

Mark McCall’s men, so adept in knock-out situations, put in a performance saturated with blood and sweat to get over the line at the Gardens.

Owen Farrell’s 19 points grabbed headlines, but it was the nitty gritty done at the breakdown where Saracens excelled.

They were supreme in squeezing penalties out of Saints and the kicking game they are so practised at worked to perfection.

At times, Saints tried to meet fire with fire, lofting the ball back to their opponents.

Lee Dickson tried to box-kick Saints out of danger

Lee Dickson tried to box-kick Saints out of danger

But the kick and chase game is not theirs.

It is not what they specialise in.

That was shown when Exeter, who were the only team to win at the Gardens this season, exploited them back in November.

And it was shown again here.

Owen Farrell was instrumental in Saracens' success

Owen Farrell was instrumental in Saracens' success

Put simply, Saracens were able to call the shots.

To play their way and to stop Saints doing what they do so well.

Finally, McCall’s side had turned the tide against a Northampton team who have become their nemesis since Saracens’ semi-final win at the Gardens back in 2010.

Saints had won three successive league meetings with the Barnet-based team.

But it was not to be on this occasion.

Saints, so consistent in the league, have lost every knock-out tie they have played this season.

Jon Fisher added some power from the bench

Jon Fisher added some power from the bench

They fell at Saracens in the LV= Cup final four, were crushed by Clermont Auvergne in the Champions Cup quarter-finals, and now this.

Last season, Saints held their nerve and eventually imposed themselves on the opposition, coming so close to a treble, with only defeat in the LV= Cup final at Exeter preventing it.

But this time, cup situations did not prove kind and their execution was not quite there.

However, there remains much to be proud of and much to look forward to.

A squad that will lose influential figures such as Phil Dowson and Samu Manoa this summer, will be boosted by the arrival of players such a Kieran Brookes and JJ Hanrahan.

And the development of young players such as Tom Stephenson and Mike Haywood continues to provide immense promise for the future.

Saints have made six successive play-off semi-finals – and you wouldn’t bet against them making it a super seven next season.

But for now, it is time for them to take a break.

To take positives from a campaign that has provided plenty.

From the tantalising win against Leicester Tigers in December to the brilliant victory at Bath in February.

There have been plenty of highlights.

The war may not have been won, but you can guarantee Saints won’t be laying on the battlefield broken this summer.

Because next season it all starts again.

And next time, Saints will have the extra artillery needed to mount a renewed charge.

How they rated...

AHSEE TUALA

His pre-match prayers weren’t answered as he was forced off inside just three minutes with an injury that Saracens exploited, scoring while he was on the ground

KEN PISI

Tried to provide some cut and thrust from deep and didn’t do a bad job after being switched to full-back at half-time... 6

GEORGE PISI

Tried to use his dazzling footwork to outmanoeuvre Saracens, but they were alive to the danger he poses... 6

LUTHER BURRELL

Desperately tried to deliver, using his power to push Saracens back on a couple of occasions, but they stood strong... 6

JAMIE ELLIOTT

A valiant display from the wing, who was so brave under the high ball, taking catches he had no real right to... 7

STEPHEN MYLER

Kicked well enough from the tee and kept things simple as Saints tried to break through, but might rue one crossfield kick that put his team in a bit of trouble... 6

LEE DICKSON

Tried to get Saints some territory with box-kicking, but Saracens won that battle and also stopped the scrum-half getting quick ball... 6

ALEX CORBISIERO

Was forced off with a shoulder injury before the break, but had battled well up until then, giving as good as he got... 6

DYLAN HARTLEY

The captain was a driving force, making some crucial tackles and some big carries as he tried to get his team some momentum... 7

SALESI MA’AFU

Improved in the scrum from the week before and said goodbye to the Gardens with a decent enough display... 6

COURTNEY LAWES

A player Saints need to help them counter opposition sides’ physicality, but he was never able to rattle Saracens as he has so often in the past... 6

CHRISTIAN DAY

Made some carries and got through plenty of work, helping Saints steady the ship when Saracens tried to upset their plan... 7

TOM WOOD

A warrior-like performance as he constantly took the fight to the opposition, scoring a try to crown an impressive display... 8

CALUM CLARK

Once again made some crucial turnovers as he poured everything he had into the game in the bid to help Saints claim the win... 7

SAMU MANOA

The big man will be sorely missed at Saints, but Saracens will be glad to see the back of him as he has tormented them over the years. Not on this occasion, though... 7

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

JAMES WILSON (for Tuala 3)

Battled on bravely after picking up an injury but it was to end his stay on the pitch at half-time as Saints were forced to reshuffle... 6

ALEX WALLER (for Corbisiero 33)

Scored the winning try in the final against Saracens last season, but there were no late heroics here, no matter how hard he tried... 6

TOM STEPHENSON (for Wilson 40)

The centre came on at half-time and did a decent enough job in an unfamiliar wide role, but Saints couldn’t get him enough of the ball... 6

KAHN FOTUALI’I (for Dickson 50)

Such a danger, the Samoan was well shut down by Saracens, whose superb defence halted Saints’ key men... 6

GARETH DENMAN (for Ma’afu 55)

Came on at a tricky time as Saracens were starting to turn the screw and though he gave away a couple of penalties, he did everything he could to help earn a win... 6

CHRON STAR MAN - Billy Vunipola (Saracens)

Saints' Samoan contingent were deep in prayer before the game

Saints' Samoan contingent were deep in prayer before the game