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Mallinder hails Saints comeback

Published 25/04/2015

Jim Mallinder was delighted with the way his side fought back to take control of the contest
Jim Mallinder was delighted with the way his side fought back to take control of the contest

Northampton boss Jim Mallinder hailed "a big win" for his team after Saints secured a place in this season's Aviva Premiership play-offs by beating title rivals Saracens 25-20 in Milton Keynes.

Fly-half Stephen Myler kicked six penalties and converted Samu Manoa's try for a 20-point haul to thwart Saracens, who struck early with two Chris Wyles tries, while Charlie Hodgson booted two penalties and two conversions.

Saints, who still have bottom club London Welsh to play at home, also remain on course for a home semi-final, and a comeback win from 14-6 adrift said everything about their character.

Saracens, though, did not quite have enough in the tank after their narrow European Champions Cup semi-final loss to Clermont Auvergne in France last Saturday, but they should still join Northampton in next month's Premiership knockout phase.

And they must also hope that injuries to back-row forwards Billy Vunipola (ankle) and Jackson Wray (concussion) are not long-term after they both went off during the opening 40 minutes.

"It is a big win," said Mallinder, whose team triumphed in front of a record 27,411 attendance at stadium:mk.

"Saracens disrupted our set-piece - the lineout didn't function quite as well as it normally does - but we managed to keep in the game and Stephen Myler kicked his goals.

"Stephen gets man-of-the-match in a lot of the big games he plays in. You need someone as reliable as him who can kick the goals in big pressure situations and can run the team.

"Billy Vunipola going off was a critical moment. We seemed to get on the front foot in the second-half, and I thought we dominated."

It represented a strong recovery by Saints, who were dumped out of Europe 37-5 by Clermont Auvergne earlier this month and then lost to Premiership opponents Exeter two weeks ago.

"The Clermont game really disappointed us because we came a good second-best," Mallinder added.

"The Exeter game was slightly different. We looked at the game on the Monday and saw five or six chances that we basically blew, so we knew there were parts of our game that were still functioning well.

"This win is a big help in terms of trying to achieve that home semi-final.

"We will take the lads to Portugal for a few days now, and hopefully a bit more bonding and a bit of training, and hopefully prepare for four more games."

It was a strange day in many ways for Saracens, who started the game wearing white shirts, but then changed to their familiar black jerseys at half-time after that kit was driven from St Albans to Milton Keynes by the break, therefore avoiding any further clash with Northampton's one-off red and white St George's Day kit.

Saracens rugby director Mark McCall said: "You can't expect to win games of that nature when you give away the amount of penalties that we did.

"There were seven penalties for offside, and we are disappointed with that.

"We genuinely don't mind losing the odd game. Last week, I was incredibly proud of how we lost. Today felt a bit different.

"We pride ourselves on being disciplined, but that wasn't the case today. I thought in the last 20 minutes of the match we didn't do the right thing at the right time often enough.

"We lost a bit of composure in the last 20 minutes, and Northampton took advantage of that."

Reflecting on the injuries, McCall added: "Billy has rolled his ankle - we will know more in the next couple of days - and Jackson has got a concussion.

"It has been a really demanding eight or nine weeks for us. It has been relentless, but enjoyable as well, so we are not going to make any excuses.

"We were clinical for our first two scores, but we had a horrible six minutes when Billy drops the ball over the line, then he rolls his ankle - it is a big blow to lose a player like him - and his replacement goes off two minutes later.

"But we were 20-13 up after 55 minutes, we didn't deal with a restart, Maro Itoje makes a tackle and gets sin-binned, and the momentum of the whole game swung."

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