Northampton Saints 25 Saracens 27: Tom Vickers' review and player ratings

Saints were beaten at Stadium MK as Saracens scored two minutes from time (pictures: Kirsty Edmonds)
Saints were beaten at Stadium MK as Saracens scored two minutes from time (pictures: Kirsty Edmonds)
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There will have been a few whispers of 'I told you so' among the Saints fraternity at Stadium MK and in front of television screens on Sunday.

Those who were sure their side would squander a lead late in the day for a third game running were proved right.

While those who were desperate to remain positive about their team's chances went unrewarded.

For some, Saracens' stirring late revival would have not been a shock.

But for many it was, as Saints looked set to finally banish some of the demons that had appeared after late heartache against Bath in February, Leicester in March and Wasps earlier in April.

Jim Mallinder's men were cruising at 25-12 up with 12 minutes to go.

Saracens had rarely threatened to score, with all of their points coming from the boot of assured fly-half Alex Lozowski.

But then the door opened, Chris Ashton walked through it and Saints succumbed.

Yes, Saracens got the rub of the green on a few of the decisions, as Bath did back in February.

But this wasn't all about the officials.

It was more about those top two inches that are spoken about so often in sport.

When the going gets tough, title-chasing teams get going.

Saints did it back in 2013/14, when they pulled many a match from the fire.

They did it at Wasps, at Exeter, in the Premiership semi-final against Leicester and, of course, in the final to defeat Saracens.

But since then, Saracens are the ones who have fostered a winning mentality.

Saints, on the other hand, have felt the pressure pile on top of them.

They may have finished top of the table in 2015, but in the big play-off semi-final at home to Saracens, they were beaten.

The streetwise side from Allianz Park marched into Franklin's Gardens and claimed sweet revenge for the previous year's defeat in the showpiece.

Since then, Saracens have gone from strength to strength.

So much so that they could do without the likes of Maro Itoje and Owen Farrell on Sunday and still come on strong towards the end.

They are in the winning habit. They don't really know how to lose when it comes to the crunch.

But Saints are currently the antithesis.

They have been put under so much strain by poor performances during the past two seasons that mentally it is tough for them to prevail.

That is shown by the fact they have now won just one of 10 league matches against the rest of the Aviva Premiership top seven this season.

There has rarely been any gap in quality in those matches.

Saints lost by four points to Bath on the opening day and then were sunk by the same side with the final kick of the game at The Rec in February.

Wasps may be leading the way, but had Saints had the composure they crave, Mallinder's men would be savouring a double against the current table-toppers.

They paid for their profligacy against the Coventry-based team at the Gardens in September, losing 20-15, and were then beaten in the final play at the Ricoh Arena eight days ago.

Leicester, who Saints have now lost to on the past seven occasions, nicked a late victory at the Gardens last month, winning 36-31, and the Tigers edged out their rivals 19-11 at Welford Road in December after Mallinder's men again failed to take second-half chances.

Saracens were behind against Saints at Allianz Park until Alex Waller's yellow card proved costly, and Mark McCall's men could, and probably should, have lost yesterday.

Harlequins were the most convincing winners against Saints, who were lacklustre in a 20-9 defeat at The Stoop in October.

While Exeter are the only member of the top six to have lost to Saints, being edged out by a last-gasp Harry Mallinder penalty in September.

On that night, you felt Saints had got their steel back.

They battled back to secure a precious win, reminiscent of that double-winning season.

But since then, big wins in big games have eluded them, despite the fact they have made stark progress in attack in recent weeks and months.

As they did against Bath, Leicester and Wasps, Saints played some Champagne rugby against Saracens, threatening to run riot.

But top teams stay in touch. They give away penalties rather than tries and make sure they are within touching distance come the final 10 minutes.

That is what Saracens did, employing their own version of Muhammad Ali's Rope a Dope tactics, absorbing the pressure and striking with Ashton's crucial score.

And with a bit of help from referee Matthew Carley, who disagreed with many people in the ground when it came to an incident involving Ben Foden, they continued to push on.

Eventually, Marcelo Bosch's score and Lozowski's conversion two minutes from time put them ahead for the first time in the match.

And after claiming the restart, they booted the ball out to spark scenes of celebration on the visiting bench.

It left many Saints supporters scratching their heads as they headed for the Stadium MK exits.

Meanwhile, others were savouring their new-found Nostradamus status while still feeling the pain of their fellow Northampton fans.

How they rated...
AHSEE TUALA

This man has been one of the stars of Saints' recent attacking revival, making the 15 shirt his own, and his offload for Ken Pisi's try was superb... 8

KEN PISI
Brilliantly gathered the high ball and offloaded to Harry Mallinder for Saints' first try, and the Samoan managed to get on the scoresheet himself in the second half... 8

LUTHER BURRELL
A strong start from the centre, who carried the fight to Saracens, making plenty of metres and looking determined to do some damage... 7

HARRY MALLINDER
Was the stand-out player during the first half as he grabbed a try and travelled well on the counter-attack, and he stepped in at fly-half after Stephen Myler's injury... 8

BEN FODEN
Showed plenty of desire on the wing but he didn't manage to find as much space as others, which was no real fault of his own... 6

STEPHEN MYLER
His clever high ball helped to set up Mallinder's score and he landed three kicks before he was forced off with a knee injury... 7

NIC GROOM
Another sparky display from the scrum-half, who has really grown into the shirt and now looks an excellent acquisition... 7

ALEX WALLER
Saints weren't able to get on top in the scrum but this man still put plenty of effort in for the team... 6

DYLAN HARTLEY
Has looked strong and has helped to lead the side since returning from England duty, even grabbing his first try of the season here... 8

KIERAN BROOKES
No shortage of effort from the prop, but he wasn't quite as influential as he was at Wasps on the previous weekend... 6

COURTNEY LAWES
Is having a sensational season and he was vital to getting Saints on the front foot during the first half... 8

DAVID RIBBANS
This young second row looks like a great find for Saints and he continued his rapid rise to prominence here... 7

JAMIE GIBSON
Got through plenty of graft and never seemed to tire as he continuously put in important tackles... 7

TOM WOOD
The skipper put in a huge display, making carry after carry and tackle after tackle, and he could not be blamed for the late disappointment... 8

LOUIS PICAMOLES
Tried to battle on despite picking up an injury and he produced a few trademark offloads before having to leave the field after just 25 minutes... 6

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)
TEIMANA HARRISON (for Picamoles 25)

Carried with real aggression as usual, frantically trying to help Saints extend their lead, but it wasn't to be... 7

RORY HUTCHINSON (for Myler 40)
A good cameo from the young centre, whose fine pass helped to make Ken Pisi's second-half score... 7

PAUL HILL (for Brookes 54)
Always asked to bring extra energy up front when he comes on and the prop didn't do much wrong... 6

CHRON STAR MAN - Alex Lozowski (Saracens)

Harry Mallinder had a big influence for Saints

Harry Mallinder had a big influence for Saints

Ahsee Tuala continued his fine form

Ahsee Tuala continued his fine form

Ken Pisi scored during the second half

Ken Pisi scored during the second half