Rock-hard Saracens defence paves way for win at Northampton
An immaculate defensive display from champions Saracens saw them defeat title rivals Northampton 12-6.
In front of a record crowd at Franklin's Gardens of 15,169 - thanks to the opening of the new Barwell Stand - Owen Farrell kicked four penalties, while Saracens kept the home side down to just a penalty apiece from Stephen Myler and JJ Hanrahan.
Saracens were at full strength with Billy Vunipola making his first club appearance of the season, while Northampton were missing England lock Courtney Lawes and back-rower Calum Clark to injury.
Greasy conditions made for a tight contest , with the visitors' suffocating defence winning the penalties in the right areas to win.
Despite Saracens having all of the territory in the first 20 minutes, Myler gave the hosts a 3-0 lead with a penalty after three minutes. Kahn Fotuali'i created the first kick at the posts by throwing the ball into a lazy runner and winning a penalty immediately after Farrell's kick-off went straight into touch.
Kieran Brookes was dominant at tighthead for Northampton as their pack won four penalties from the first five scrums to slow Saracens down.
The hosts also expertly defused a Saracens a lineout drive 10m from their try-line.
In the 33rd minute the crowd came alive as a late tackle from Tom Wood saw Farrell retaliate with a push to the head as Wood tried to get up. Referee Luke Pearson gave the penalty to Saracens to leave the home fans incensed.
For the first time in living memory at Franklin's Gardens the tradition of silence for a penalty kick was ignored and Farrell had to take the 30-metre punt to a cacophony of boos, but still slotted it to make it 3-3 five minutes before the break.
A turnover allowed Northampton to break, with George North kicking ahead. Fotuali'i won a penalty after a terrible pass from Chris Ashton, but Myler missed a simple kick, slicing it to the right. Instead Saracens went into half-time 6-3 in front as Farrell landed a penalty from 45 metres.
Farrell extended Saracens' lead six minutes into the second half after his pack won a scrum penalty.
Maro Itoje gave away a penalty and Myler's kick to the corner allowed Northampton to pile on the pressure with 23 minutes to go. With Northampton desperate for a try they threw on JJ Hanrahan, the summer signing from Munster, at fly-half in place of Myler. Dylan Hartley also departed taking Billy Vunipola with him after his big hit left the Saracens number eight dazed.
But Sarries centre Marcelo Bosch won a penalty to relieve the pressure and from the resulting lineout drive Northampton were penalised again. With 12 minutes to go Farrell made it 12-3 to condemn the 2014 champions to their third defeat in the opening four games.
A late penalty from Hanrahan at least saw Northampton collect a losing bonus point.