Saracens 17 Northampton 16: Myler miss is a kick in the teeth for Jim's beaten Saints
19:40 GMT, 30 December 2012
Stephen Myler and Northampton were left shattered in Milton Keynes as the fly-half’s last-minute, long-range penalty to win a pulsating game hit the crossbar and bounced out, giving Saracens a dramatic reprieve.
The Saints No 10 was presented with a shot for glory from his own half, with just seconds remaining, in controversial circumstances. Saracens prop Rhys Gill was penalised by referee JP Doyle for kicking the ball away from a ruck, when replays suggested that the ball was out and he was entitled to do so.
Then, some back-chat from one of the home players prompted the official to march forward 10 metres, leaving Northampton with a penalty on the limit of kicking range.
Close call: Myler hit the crossbar with the final kick of the game
Putting the boot in: Farrell
Myler, who had already registered 11 points with the boot, took aim at the posts, some 57 metres away. He let fly and the ball soared towards the target, only to glance off the centre of the bar, allowing Brad Barritt to clear into the stands to clinch the narrow win which sees his side go into the new year second in the Aviva Premiership, one point behind champions and leaders Harlequins.
Back by the halfway line, Myler was left on his haunches, with his head in his hands. Jim Mallinder, Northampton’s director of rugby, turned and strode down the tunnel, frustrated by the agonising manner of this latest defeat against a top-four team and incensed by Doyle’s refereeing.
Afterwards, he said: ‘Should have won, could have won. If Stephen Myler had kicked that goal at the end, we’d all be in there now celebrating a great away victory.
‘To be honest, I didn’t think he could get it. I was definitely wondering if they had made the right decision but you have to leave it to the players. Stephen knows best if he has a realistic chance of kicking it or not. It was left up to him and I think he probably did make the right decision to go for it.’
In a tense final quarter, a few of Doyle’s decisions came in for close scrutiny, particularly a penalty awarded to Saracens at a ruck in the closing minutes. Ben Foden, the Saints and England full back, exploded with rage when the whistle sounded and vented his fury on the nearby touch judge. Mallinder, in slightly calmer fashion, echoed his sense of indignation.
‘The majority of the decisions early on were probably just, but the referee has got to be consistent,’ he said. ‘If he is going to penalise Dylan Hartley for going off his feet, quite rightly, then he has to do Barritt at the end of the game for the same offence. In the final 10 or 15 minutes, there was some decision-making by us which we’ll need to look at, and we’ll look at a couple of the referee’s decisions as well, because they can be the difference between winning and losing close games like that. He got a number of those decisions wrong today.’
For the first quarter of this game, it merely appeared a question of how many points Saracens would win by against their bitter rivals, whose supporters dominated the large festive crowd. The nomadic Hertfordshire club immediately appeared at home in a stadium where their opponents have staged matches in the past, and were ahead in the seventh minute.
Try time: Phil Dowson crossed for Northampton
From an attacking line-out on the left, George Kruis took a clean catch and the Saracens pack drove forward with great conviction, on and on over the line until John Smit touched down. Charlie Hodgson missed the conversion, but he was on target with an 11th-minute penalty and his side continued to dominate proceedings on the back of clear superiority in the scrum.
Yet, that set-piece advantage gradually faded as the Saints forwards rallied and in the 24th minute the visitors hit back.
From a scrum near halfway, Ken Pisi broke clear on the right, Courtney Lawes stormed on and when quick ball was delivered to Phil Dowson, the flanker burst through three tackles to score a try which Myler converted to make it 11-7.
Saracens retaliated with gusto to this renewed challenge and after David Strettle so nearly went clean through the middle in the Northampton 22, Will Fraser and Ernst Joubert drove strongly at the line but the ball went loose, Samu Manoa pounced on it and eventually a clearance kick by Lee Dickson alleviated the sustained pressure.
Cast adrift: Northampton are eight points behind Saracens
Moments later, the scrum-half’s dart forward brought a penalty to the Saints which Myler struck to narrow the deficit to one point at the break. After half-time, the visitors’ No 10 maintained his assured goal-kicking to establish a 16-11 lead for his team, while Hodgson missed three successive shots at the other end. Owen Farrell, who had replaced Joel Tomkins at outside centre, took over kicking duties and calmly dispatched two successive penalties to push Saracens in front again and they clung on with a little help from the crossbar which denied Myler.
Mark McCall, Sarries’ director of rugby, was relieved by the outcome of that last-gasp kick, saying: ‘I felt the same as everyone else felt. It was out of our hands. We knew it was a very difficult kick. It was an unbelievable strike in fairness. He had his kicking boots on today, so we are grateful to have come away with a narrow victory.’
In a measured reaction to Doyle’s officiating, McCall added: ‘There are always going to be things that you are not happy about. There was some frustration in our side from time to time and I am surprised they (Northampton) feel as strongly as they do about it.’
This defeat for the Saints leaves them sixth in the Premiership table but Mallinder remained bullish about their prospects of mounting a convincing title challenge. ‘We know we’re a good side and today proved that,’ he said.
‘There’s not a lot between the top teams and although we’re now mid-table, we’re not out of the running, by any means. There are a few people who have written us off already but there’s a long way to go. We won’t give up, we’ll be back.’