Northampton Saints 28 Saracens 54: Tom Vickers' review and player ratings

Saracens replacement Charlie Watson saw red after kicking Andy Symons in the head
Saracens replacement Charlie Watson saw red after kicking Andy Symons in the head

After beating Saracens in a gritty Premiership Rugby Cup final at Franklin's Gardens in March, Saints will have hoped they had finally broken the curse.

They will have hoped their second-half collapses against the men from Allianz Park were now a thing of the past.

Saints and Saracens battled it out

Saints and Saracens battled it out

They will have hoped they had found a style of play that could ensure Saracens would enjoy a cakewalk in Northampton no longer.

But, on Sunday, they were given a stark reminder of the journey they still have to go on.

Because Saracens, yet again, showed how relentless and ruthless they can be.

They, unlike so many teams who finish below them in the league standings every year, are consistently able to produce the much talked about 80-minute performance.

David Ribbans scored for Saints

David Ribbans scored for Saints

Even when they go behind, they don't go behind by much.

They refuse to let the opposition have any breathing space, and then they well and truly suffocate them late on.

That is what happened at the Gardens on Sunday as Saints followed a promising first-half performance with a second-half shocker.

They kept allowing Saracens to win the ball back, and they kept being made to pay, eventually losing the final 40 minutes 31-7.

Nick Tompkins was the Saracens hat-trick hero

Nick Tompkins was the Saracens hat-trick hero

It sparked familiar scenes as fans flooded out of the Gardens in dismay at another difficult day against a team they used to regularly go toe to toe with a few years ago.

Since then, Saracens have found a physicality and consistency Saints have struggled to match.

They managed it in March when they lifted the cup, but they couldn't achieve the same again on Sunday.

Neither team was anywhere near at full strength, but Saracens have the kind of strength in depth that other clubs envy.

And with Saints' bench players unable to make an impact, Saracens sent on several men who could.

It was extremely frustrating for a home side who had again shown glimpses of what they can do, as they had done during the previous Saturday's loss to Wasps.

The likes of Henry Taylor, Andy Symons, Teimana Harrison and Michael van Vuuren really stood up to be counted.

Saints should have even gone in at half-time ahead, with only a last-gasp penalty costing them the lead.

And you expected them to build on that showing after the break.

But Saracens clearly had the better half-time oranges in their dressing room because what happened after the break was almost exclusively in their favour.

They strangled Saints in contact and got the rewards they wanted, staying patient and finding the myriad gaps they so often do.

For some Saints supporters, that will set the alarm bells ringing ahead of the new season.

Are Saracens going to dominate their side yet again?

The answer is that we won't truly know until later this month when the two teams meet in the Gallagher Premiership.

The cast lists will be very different and that will be a true indicator of just where these squads are.

Because the approach to the Premiership Rugby Cup this season has been one of pre-season, giving as many squad members minutes as possible.

Results have been secondary, but there is no doubt that wins breed belief.

And if Saints could have matched their first-half showing with their second, it would have been a real shot in the arm.

As it is, it will be back to the drawing board during the next couple of weeks - including at Leicester on Saturday - as they prepare for that tough trip to Saracens on October 19.

If they again fail to match their opponents in every area for 80 minutes on that occasion, it will be yet another difficult day inflicted by Saracens.

But for now, belief must still remain that Saints can spring into life when the serious stuff starts.

They may be out of the cup, but they are still far from down about how this campaign has started.

How they rated...

RORY HUTCHINSON

Was given a rare run at full-back and looked as sharp in attack as ever, keeping Saracens on their toes during the first half, but was left with a lot to do defensively... 6

RYAN OLOWOFELA

Looked really lively early on, with his fast footwork causing real problems, but was forced to do far more defending in the second period... 6

FRASER DINGWALL

Found himself switched to the wing during the second half but kept pushing on until the end, trying to stem the Saracens tide... 6

ANDY SYMONS

A huge first-half showing from the centre, who appeared to be everywhere at times, popping up to score twice... 8

TOM COLLINS

Not the easiest day for the wing as Saracens flew down his side and constantly put pressure on him to defend... 5

JAMES GRAYSON

Started the game well but as Saracens started to take over, it was difficult for the fly-half to get on the front foot and make a real impact... 6

HENRY TAYLOR

Really deserved his try as he was instrumental in Saints' first-half showing, and he kept going despite taking a knock in a really promising performance... 8

FRANCOIS VAN WYK

Was making his first appearance of the season and will be glad to have got the minutes under his belt, even though it didn't quite go as he would have wanted... 5

MICHAEL VAN VUUREN

Looked really strong during the first half, with some good carries catching the eye, and he could be pleased with his own performance... 7

EHREN PAINTER

Continues to learn in Saints colours and this was a good test against a tough Saracens side, who ultimately won the scrap... 5

DAVID RIBBANS

Kept battling for his team, scoring a try as he tried to celebrate his new Saints contract with a win that just wouldn't come... 6

ALEX MOON

Saints will be pleased to have the powerhouse lock back and he took on some far wider men as he looked to stop Saracens in their tracks... 6

JJ TONKS

The young flanker clearly possesses plenty of promise but this was a difficult day against a streetwise Saracens side... 5

TEIMANA HARRISON

Refused to relent throughout the game, with a late breakdown penalty win showing he just would not give up... 8

MITCH EADIE

One high tackle in the first half gave Saracens a crucial penalty and he wasn't quite able to assert his authority on proceedings... 5

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

REUBEN BIRD-TULLOCH (for Olowofela 54)

Wasn't really able to get into the game and a couple of wayward passes threatened to put Saints in trouble... 4

ALEX WALLER (for van Wyk 56)

The co-captain came on at a difficult time as Saracens were starting to assume control of proceedings, and it ended up being one-way traffic... 5

TOMMY MATHEWS (for Hutchinson 56)

Saracens put real pressure on Saints' backs during the second half, forcing them into errors, and the youngster did not have an easy time during his cameo... 4

CHRON STAR MAN - Nick Tompkins (Saracens)