Premiership: Saracens 24-31 Northampton
|Saracens (8) 24|
|Tries: Wray, Wyles 2 Pens: Hodgson 3|
|Northampton (25) 31|
|Tries: Wilson 2, Dowson Cons: Myler 2 Pens: Myler 4|
Champions Northampton Saints returned to the top of the Premiership table, beating Saracens on home turf despite a spirited second-half fightback.
Saints pummelled Sarries, through James Wilson's brace and Phil Dowson's try, with Jackson Wray scoring in reply.
However Sarries fought back after half-time, Chris Wyles scoring twice with Saints' Alex Waller in the sin-bin.
Stephen Myler's three-pointer nudged Saints clear while Charlie Hodgson's penalty claimed a losing bonus point.
There was little of the tension and drama produced by the last meeting between these sides, when Northampton claimed their first Premiership title with a last-minute try in extra time of May's final.
But it was to Saracens' credit that the game became something resembling a contest after a flimsy first-half performance from Mark McCall's men allowed Saints to dominate.
And there was also a poignant statement made by a trio of England hopefuls, with Myler, Lee Dickson and Luther Burrell - all left out of Stuart Lancaster's side that beat Samoa on Saturday - central to the victory.
Saints stunned the hosts just minutes into the game, with Myler zipping a short pass to Burrell, who burst through the Sarries defence and looped a perfect delivery out wide for Wilson to cross.
Hodgson put over a penalty for Saracens, but Myler replied with one of his own before Saints once again took advantage of a bewildered home side as Dickson nudged through a kick for Wilson to touch down his second.
The Saints pack, which was dominant for most of the opening period, produced a third score, piling on the pressure at a Sarries scrum and forcing Billy Vunipola to cough up the ball for Dowson to smuggle over from close range.
But the Saracens front men finally came alive in the closing seconds of the half, with Vunipola at the middle of a catch-and-drive that ended with Wray bundling over the line.
Hodgson missed the extras but slotted over a penalty after the break that lifted the Allianz Park crowd, even though Myler added one of his own.
Waller was sin-binned when referee Matthew Carley became exasperated with the number of penalties Saints were conceding, and Wyles capitalised, firstly benefitting from Ben Spencer's quick tap-penalty to cross in the corner and then taking advantage of Hodgson's defence-stretching pass to touch down on the same spot.
Hodgson failed to increase the pressure when he missed with both conversions and Saints, back up to 15 men, were able to breathe a sigh of relief as Myler slotted over a penalty to inflict Saracens's first home league defeat since February.
The late place kick from Hodgson was mere consolation, though it did bring the hosts within bonus point range.
Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall:
"The contrast between the two halves was too big. The first 25 minutes were unbelievably disappointing.
"We were second best in almost every area, but in particular the scrum.
"We allowed what happened with the scrum during that 25-minute period to drain us of energy across the board. We weren't sharp enough or urgent enough and we lacked intensity.
"Clearly we were much better second half, much more like ourselves. But the first half was very poor."
Northampton Saints director of rugby Jim Mallinder:
"Tactically we got it right in that first half. The conditions were poor and I think it was windier than it looked.
"In the first half we played really well and really accurately. We got some early momentum, they came back at us in the second half.
On an injury to Luther Burrell: "I believe he's gone over on his ankle. It's not life threatening.
"He'll be hoping to get down to England training and show Stuart Lancaster what he can do."
Saracens: Goode; Ashton, Tompkins, Wyles, Strettle; Hodgson, Spencer; Gill, George, Figallo, Hamilton, Hargreaves, Wray, Fraser, Vunipola.
Replacements: Sharman, Barrington, Johnston, Itoje, Burger, Joubert, de Kock, Ransom.
Northampton: Foden; Elliott, Stephenson, Burrell, Wilson; Myler, Dickson; A Waller, Haywood, Ma'afu; Craig, Day; Clark, Dowson (capt), Manoa
Replacements: McMillan, E Waller, Denman, Harrison, Nutley, Hodgson, Waldouck, Packman