Saracens V Northampton: Score and Lessons Learned from Aviva Premiership Final
It was always going to be a tight war of the Premiership's most potent powers, but Northampton Saints' Twickenham triumph over Saracens overcame any and all expectations in a most frantic but fantastic finale.
The score was tied at 14-14 after normal time, but Jim Mallinder's men rode the storm to emerge as 24-20 victors after 20 extra minutes.
Saracens will be desperately disappointed to have come away from a second major final defeat in the space of a week, but a last-minute Alex Waller try decided matters in a thrilling back-and-forth fixture, with some of the game's biggest lessons discussed ahead.
1. Saracens the Substance; Saints the Sublime
In what was a superb contest between two truly deserving finalists, Northampton had to learn how to go about matters without a lot of possession for periods, and they adapted to the circumstances terrifically.
Saracens were every bit the well-marshalled troop we've come to expect out of Allianz Park. Their territory game was pragmatic, their running game as physical and rabid as ever. And Jacques Burger led a defensive effort to be proud of.
But when it came to those moments of sizzle and spark that makes a final so memorable, one would say that Mallinder's men were the biggest producers of this type of content.
A back three of George North, Ken Pisi and Ben Foden shook off the nerves of the open 20 minutes and looked capable of making things appear out of nothing from that moment on—and the same might have been said of Luther Burrell alongside others.
The Premiership's two top try scorers this term showed in succinct fashion just how they've each climbed to that status.
However, Saints took on a more rigid approach in extra time, and Waller's last-gasp score was the difference between the two sides.
2. Saints' Kicking Efforts Not Up to Sarries Standards
It's a struggle that comes down to personnel at the end of the day, but there was a telling gulf in class between Saracens and Northampton when it came to the kicking game on Saturday, specifically how each team nudged on from out of hand.
Owen Farrell, Alex Goode and Neil de Kock were the particular promoters of this fine aspect to their play, far outshining their respective counterparts in Stephen Myler, Foden and Kahn Fotuali'i.
Time after time, the Saracens playmaking trio identified where the space was most susceptible behind enemy lines, and Pisi looked a particularly exposed figure on occasion, with David Strettle raining thunder down the Saints' right flank on what Mallinder will have considered far too frequent an occasion.
Granted, one might argue that Saints' ability and running of the ball on the counter was sublime; Pisi summed this up best with his 80-metre charge down the pitch in the first half.
However, the kicking game, which Saracens were so ironically made to look quite inferior in at times against Toulon last week, proved to be one of their strongest suits and is certainly something to build off thanks to the player strengths under their command.
Ironically, it was Myler's tee kicking that would help the Saints to glory, winning Man of the Match honours along the way.
3. Owen Farrell No Longer the Youngster
It's a notion that's been building for moths, but now it's official: Farrell is a man.
And as he ascends in both club and national team colours, the 22-year-old continues to go lead his line-ups with a candour that's far beyond his years, unafraid of any test, it seems.
You could make note of this "lesson" at any juncture this season, but a 2013-14 Premiership final at Twickenham just a week after losing in a Heineken Cup final seems an apt time to praise the young gun for his mental fortitude.
It will help that ex-international father Andy is there to guide him through these waters that have been the downfall of many an up-and-coming star, but the work done on Saturday's turf was all down to the fly-half himself.
Farrell was involved in just about every aspect of play, and if the Northampton pack targeted him as a potential weak spot in the Saracens defence, they could have chosen better.
By halftime, Farrell had missed just one tackle, slotting two of his three attempted penalties, and only Schalk Brits had beaten more defenders within his side's ranks.
His probing with the boot was expert level, and as ever, Farrell was ever willing to punish the opponent for showing him the slightest of gaps, forcing breaks in a straight and to-the-point manner as he continues to excel, irrespective of his age or the occasion surrounding him.
It may not have been enough after Charlie Hodgson came on for Farrell with 20 minutes of normal time left, but the youngster's reputation is by no means harmed as a result.
4. Dorian West's Set-Piece Influence Telling for Saints' Giants
There was a telling moment in the first half, just after Pisi had forced the Saints from their own 22 and into the opposition's, where something clicked with the Premiership's highest try scorers this season.
Half of the Twickenham crowd erupted into applause when Myler lined up to go for touch rather than kick for the posts when his team were given a short-range penalty, fully knowing of just what his forwards were capable of from the line-out.
Dorian West's seven-year stay at Franklin's Gardens has been a path of steady growth alongside Mallinder, but now the fruit is starting to show, and his work with a gifted pack certainly has product on the end.
The decision to go for touch ultimately proved smart, as it wasn't long after this that Foden touched down for the game's opening try.
It was a pattern that carried through in the fixture, and though a Steve Borthwick-led Saracens line-up are no slouches of their own at the line, this is one facet of the game where the Saints could expect to march.
5. David Strettle Showing Stuart Lancaster Why He Should Be New Zealand-Bound
Having not played in an England jersey since June 2013, it's anyone's guess as to just what role Stuart Lancaster has in mind for Saracens' David Strettle this summer.
A mass of the stars on show in Saturday's final will be heading to New Zealand to feature in the second Test against the All Blacks, but the wings are emerging as a competitive area in the squad, with Jonny May, Semesa Rokoduguni, Marland Yarde and Charlie Sharples already in the running.
Strettle's teammate Chris Ashton is sure to be a part of the post-final party being called up for their tickets to New Zealand, but Strettle is just as deserving of his own call based on this season's form. Saturday was another fine account of what he can add to the squad.
As aforementioned, Pisi's lack of positional sense at times opened the space up for Strettle to get in behind the Saints line, and the ex-league player was more than happy to encourage his kickers in taking advantage.
He didn't finish the afternoon's proceedings, but from six carries, Strettle clocked up 26 valuable metres with ball in hand and missed just one tackle, less than compatriots Ashton and Goode.
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