After being humiliated in a 55-24 opening day defeat at Twickenham, Northampton were out for revenge against Saracens. It wasn’t to be, however, as they succumbed to another thrashing at the hands of the reigning European champions, this time losing 57-13 in front of their home fans at Franklin’s Gardens. Mark McCall’s side scored eight tries, with new signing Liam Williams scoring a brace. Here are five things we learned during this game:
Jamie George leads hooker race
Remarkably Jamie George has never started a Test for England despite starting all three Tests for the Lions this summer. After scoring three tries last week, many were calling for Eddie Jones to give him the starting number two shirt, and this performance did him no harm. He even bagged another try along the way.
Going into this game, many dubbed this as an audition for the England hooker position as he faced off against current England captain Dylan Hartley. George had a strong performance, only missing one of his line-outs, and making 16 positive contributions compared to Hartley’s 6, according to stats from BT Sport.
Hartley has been a steady choice for England under Jones and he has been picked for his leadership skills over anything else. His line-out accuracy is superb, although George has been the slightly better thrower in the Premiership this season, but what separates them is their work in the loose. Under the tutelage of veteran Schalk Brits, George has drastically improved his skill set. He is now much more of a threat in the loose which gives him the edge over Hartley at the moment. It will be a tough decision for Jones to make, and it will be the big talking point going into the first Test against the Wallabies in November.
England are blessed at the lock position
Another selection headache for Jones will be the second row position. There were four England locks playing in this game, and they all put their hand up for selection as the England coach watched on from the stands. A victim of the plethora of talent in this position is George Kruis, who after being dropped from England’s latest training camp in September showed everyone he was hungry to win back an England shirt. Kruis led the Saracens tackle count with 13 and showed his usual composure at the line-out.
After making his Saracens debut last season, 19-year-old Nick Isiekwe is now considered as one of the best locks in the country. It seems certain he has a huge future ahead of him, making 24 metres from just 6 carries in this game, he continues to impress week after week. Courtney Lawes was incredible for the Saints, and was their only positive in an embarrassing forward display, completing 18 tackles and 11 carries.
This will be a difficult decision for Jones to make and one of these big names will have to miss out.
Saints lack size in their pack
The Saints have failed to recover from the departure of Louis Picamoles last year and as a result they lack someone in their pack who can get them over the gain line. When you look at the successful Premiership winning teams over the years, they have all had a top class, dominant number eight who gives them front foot ball. In the absence of the talismanic Picamoles they really miss that driving force at the position.
In this game, they weren’t physical enough and the Saracens pack bullied them. The Saints were passive in defence and the away side repeatedly marched their way upfield. In attack it was the same story as they were met at the line by some strong Sarries defence and lost every collision. They lacked ball carriers and massively suffered because of it, not getting into the opposition 22 until the 73rd minute.
Liam Williams is world class
Lions fullback Liam Williams was the big signing for Saracens over the summer after his move from Pro12 champions Scarlets. So far this has proved to be an outstanding bit of business. Williams scored two well-taken first half tries, but also the other parts of his game set him apart on the field.
His kick chase is phenomenal and you will struggle to find a player better in the air under the high ball. The 26-year-old’s lethal aerial skills, coinciding with the pinpoint boot of Richard Wigglesworth, are a deadly combination that can turn defence into immediate attack. This will be a go-to move for the north Londoners this year.
Saracens can be one of the greatest sides ever
Every team has their time in the sun, but this Saracens team has been in the sun for so long they are at serious risk of getting some terrible sunburn. Their ability to find the hunger and desire to compete for titles year after year is remarkable and shouldn’t be underestimated. Teams such as Harlequins and Northampton struggled to find that desire after they won the title and that has resulted in them declining massively over the years, but this side somehow keeps going. They have been at the top for a long time and continue to outperform themselves each year and now it seems as if they are at the peak of their powers.
The defining moment of this game came 20 minutes into the second half when they were 36-6 up. With all 5 points seemingly in the bag, they continued to defend like it was a close game and their line speed was excellent. Most teams at this stage would become slightly passive, but this team was flying up out of the line and they were not willing to give Northampton anything from this game.
This sums up what Saracens are all about. The team has such a good ethos and spirit that they will fight for each other for 80 minutes. They are big favourites to win their third Champions Cup title in a row, and if they do come May, I believe it would give them the right to be named as one of the greatest English sides we have ever seen.
What did you learn from the game? Let us know in the comments section!
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