Saracens are indebted to the finesse of Alex Goode, their homegrown England prospect, as they seal a place in the Guinness Premiership final.
Saracens Goode to their word
For all the pre-match fighting talk about "unleashing the monster" on Northampton, Saracens were indebted to the finesse of Alex Goode, their homegrown England prospect, as they sealed a place in the Guinness Premiership final yesterday. The explosive semi-final meeting between the Saints, who had finished the regular season second in the table, and third-placed Saracens, had been charged by a war of words in the build-up.
The home side were embittered by what they regarded as overzealous celebrating by their opponents when they defeated them the last time they met. Among a lengthy list of grievances felt by Jim Mallinder, their coach, was the accusation that Saracens smuggled their own cheerleaders into the ground surreptitiously. Saracens hardly took a backward step in the pre-match exchanges, either, with Brendan Venter, their coach, urging his players to find their inner "Mr Hyde".
Goode, their full-back, is one of the most slightly built players of the 30 who started at Franklin's Gardens, yet he was not frightened to join in the trash-talking. He accused Northampton of being "childish" in their reaction to the recent defeat, and picked on Dylan Hartley, their firebrand hooker and Saints captain, in particular. "When a guy like Dylan talks about us not being humble, he hasn't exactly got an unblemished record," he was quoted as saying by the News of the World.
Where Goode talked the talk, he more than walked the walk. Hartley twice had him lined up, only to be left grasping at thin air, as Goode picked holes in the home defence. He scored the first of three Saracens tries, then made the break which led to Chris Wyles, the American winger, touching down the second, just after half-time. The pity was that Goode had been forced to leave the field by the time Schalk Brits had gone over for the try which brought the scores level at 19-19 in the final moments.
Victory was sealed when Glen Jackson, the Saracens fly-half, slotted the conversion, and in so doing extended his distinguished career by another week. After six failed attempts with the club, the New Zealander finally won a semi-final. "It is a great feeling knowing my final season will end in a final," said the former Waikato Chiefs No 10 in the post-match TV interview. Jackson, 34, will retire after the final at Twickenham. "I have played in six semi-finals and lost them all, so I'll take the win."
A place in the final is also a fitting reward for Brits, the South African front-row forward who has been a revelation in his debut season in English rugby. "It was the toughest game I have ever played in, as the Northampton players came at us for 80 minutes," said Brits. Until his late intervention, it had seemed as though Saracens would be denied by the two players who were the source of much of the angst between the two clubs.
Soane Tonga'uiha, the 6ft 5in Tongan prop who reneged on an earlier agreement to join Saracens and signed a new three-year contract with Northampton, powered over for a try on the stroke of half-time. Brian Mujati, a fellow prop, scored a second half try for the Saints. According to his coach he had been tapped up by one of his South African compatriots in the Saracens side. Yet it was the Men in Black who secured their advance to Twickenham, where they will attempt to win their first Premiership crown.
* Compiled by Paul Radley