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Courtney Lawes stars as Northampton Saints win at Saracens

By PA
Courtney Lawes of Northampton Saints celebrates after their victory during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Saracens and Northampton Saints at the StoneX Stadium on December 02, 2023 in Barnet, England. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Phil Dowson paid tribute to an excellent all-round performance after Northampton kept their cool to upset Saracens and record a surprise 18-12 Gallagher Premiership away win.

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Courtney Lawes was named man-of-the-match for a typically-physical display and he helped steer the Saints through a nervy finale to bag the points and snap Sarries’ five-game winning run.

Fin Smith kicked two penalties, while Ollie Sleighthome and Alex Mitchell tries made sure of the victory, despite Saracens threatening a late fightback when Alex Lewington scored with seven minutes to go.

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Fifth-placed Saints are now level on points with Saracens and Dowson believes their first league win at StoneX Stadium since 2019 is a measure of how much they have improved.

“I’m delighted with all facets of the game,” the director of rugby said.

“The lineout was under a bit of pressure and I thought we managed that when Alex Coles, our caller, went off and Chunya (Munga) as well. For Courtney (Lawes) to call that was strong.

“We talked during the week about the quality of Saracens being a measuring stick for some of the things we worked on from last season in terms of our defence, our set-piece and elements of that.

“We talked before the game about discipline issues and we want to be hard at the breakdown and create turnovers. That comes with an element of risk but we ran that balance pretty well in this game in terms of we got turnovers and didn’t give many penalties away.

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“The decision-making of when to be more pragmatic is the key for us. It’s an exciting season and it adds pressure every week.

“You’ve got to be on your mettle every week. If you’re ever so slightly off, you’re going to get punished, so it’s good for the league and hopefully for the crowd as well.”

Saracens boss Mark McCall admitted his team were second best and did not deserve to win.

They threatened a late comeback when Manu Vunipola – standing in at fly-half for Owen Farrell, who was missing with a knee injury – played a looping pass for Lewington to cross in the corner.

McCall conceded they lacked energy but was not concerned long term.

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“We were second best in all areas, to be honest,” McCall said.

“We wanted consistency in our performance but we were way off it today, especially in the first half.

“Physically, both sides of the ball, we weren’t great and in general, our movement off the ball was poor as well.

“We got a little bit better in the last 20 minutes of the match when everything was on the line and that’s the kind of energy we need from the start of the match, to be honest.

“We had three games before this, Gloucester, Newcastle, Harlequins, where our energy was phenomenal and they were really strong performances.

“There were some warning signs last weekend, especially in the first half against Bristol, which felt a little bit like the first half today.

“Northampton were fantastic and they thoroughly deserved to win.”

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