Tom Vickers’ Saints v Saracens view and player ratings

The phrase ‘strength in depth’ is bandied about more freely than Christmas present ideas at this time of the year.

By Tom Vickers
Sunday, 27th October 2013, 9:41 am
BRILLIANT PERFORMANCE - Samu Manoa (Picture: Linda Dawson)
BRILLIANT PERFORMANCE - Samu Manoa (Picture: Linda Dawson)

With international players being whisked away to represent their country, teams are left needing to shuffle their pack.

All the talk in the lead-up to matches for sides who have lost key men is of how strong the squad is.

How the team can cope without five or six of its stellar names.

How much strength in depth there is.

And, just like those Christmas presents, sometimes people are left disappointed.

Sometimes the players you have been told are capable of stepping up to the big time don’t.

Saints fans have had their fair share of that anti-climactic feeling in previous seasons.

But they did not have it on Saturday.

Instead it was Saracens who ended up with the unsightly jumper knitted by an elderly relative, while Saints got their hands on a more coveted present: Five points.

No George North. No Tom Wood. No Courtney Lawes. No Alex Corbisiero. No Dylan Hartley. No Lee Dickson. No problem.

Saints took it all in their stride, showed their strength in depth and marching to a huge 41-20 success at Franklin’s Gardens.

Saracens were left feeling bloated, sluggish and in need of a good lie down after this one.

And their South African No.8 Ernst Joubert was left to rue his remarks ahead of the game.

Because Joubert had used those three precious words, and they came back to bite him and his team.

“It’s a bit of a shame that it’s a game like Saracens against Northampton and there won’t be the internationals there but there is so much strength in depth at this club,” he said.

“The players coming in are just as good as those who are missing and they are hungry to prove themselves because they maybe haven’t had as much time on the field as they wanted.

“It’s something that we pride ourselves on, having a big squad that means we can compete in different competitions and I think we are going to show that with the internationals away.”

The truth is, as Saints boss Jim Mallinder admitted after the game, you just never know how you will adapt to losing some of your best men.

And it was clear that Northampton dealt with the absences better.

Alex Waller, who ate a Lion, Ospreys’ Adam Jones, for breakfast six days earlier, ate another Lion, Matt Stevens, for lunch on this occasion.

Mike Haywood, stepping into the sizeable shoes of Dylan Hartley, fronted up to Schalk Brits in a big way.

And Samu Manoa, moving into the second row in the absence of Courtney Lawes, was simply sensational, capping a mammoth display with a stunning solo try.

Saints will need more of the same in the coming weeks, but finally they seem to have the strength in depth to set themselves up nicely for the festive period.

How they rated...


Showed Stuart Lancaster exactly what he can do with a superb two-try performance that included a sensational try-saving tackle on England rival Alex Goode... 8


Came into the team in place of George North and put in a performance the Wales wing would have been proud of, including scoring a fine try... 8


Combined well with his brother and showed some great tenacity throughout. An impressive effort... 7


Yet another powerhouse performance from the centre, who simply has to be given a go for England this autumn... 8


Great all-round display from the young wing, who impressed in attack and defence, including a superb stop on David Strettle during the first half... 8


The fly-half is having a brilliant season, kicking well from the tee and pulling the strings for a confident backline... 8


Had said he wasn’t at his best in previous games, but he was certainly on the money here with a sharp showing that illustrated his immense ability... 8


Getting the better of Lions stars is becoming a healthy habit for the 23-year-old loosehead prop, who is really impressing... 8


Secure in the set piece and so pugnacious around the pitch, the young hooker has got bags of potential and he’s starting to realise it... 8


The Australian prop had another good day in the scrum and is proving to be a good acquisition... 7


Gargantuan effort from the big American, who helped set up the first try and scored a sensational second... 9


Another sound performance from the lock, who is such a key element in a side packed full of power and intelligence... 7


Had some joy at the breakdown and was instrumental in a huge forward effort that left Saracens completely flustered... 7


Relishes the role of skipper and that showed in a performance packed with desire and strength... 7


Was forced off at half-time but had enjoyed himself up to then, setting up the first try for Jamie Elliott and making some big carries... 7

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

GJ VAN VELZE (for Dickinson 40)

Adds plenty from the bench and Saints lost little by bringing this man into the action at the break... 7

GARETH DENMAN (for Ma’afu 58)

Really establishing himself as a good squad member this season and his rise continued with another steady showing... 6