Saracens 38-15 Northampton: Should Maitland have been sent off?

Saracens 38-15 Northampton: Hosts race into the Premiership final – where they will await either Sale or Leicester – but should match-winner Maitland have been sent off just 39 seconds into the clash?

  • Sean Maitland could have been sent off after an early tackle on George Furbank 
  • Northampton coach Phil Dowson refused to say whether he agreed with the call
  • Triple Trouble: South Africa’s Du Preez brothers have made Sale their home

Just before he kicked the penalty to put Saracens 24-3 up, Owen Farrell hauled opposite number Fin Smith from the floor and put his arm around the young No 10’s shoulder. It was an image that summed up the match. A moment of moral support for the challengers. Thanks for coming.

There was no doubt that the better team won but this victory will be marked with a huge asterisk. Saracens are the competition’s rightful finalists, heading to Twickenham as favourites irrespective of whether they face Sale or Leicester. They swallowed up Northampton with their defensive brilliance but the outcome was overshadowed by a major ‘What if?’

What if Sean Maitland’s wild challenge on George Furbank after 39 seconds had been given the sanction it warranted? Maitland flew into Furbank with a flying knee as he chased a box kick, recklessness of the highest order. The referee offered little protection for the catching player, awarding a penalty only, before Maitland went on to score his side’s two opening tries.

Perhaps feeling sorry for themselves, Northampton were dominated for the next 40 minutes. They were wrapped up by two-man tackles and turned over nine times in the first half. Ben Earl roamed the breakdown like a wild animal, pouncing on the ball like his last meal.

Northampton’s pretty patterns were shredded to pieces. They were not given a chance to move the point of contact, running directly into the teeth of Saracens’ rear guard. Earl and Maro Itoje made more than 20 tackles each, limiting Northampton to just three points for almost an hour.

Sean Maitland could have been sent off for a flying knee on George Furbank early on

Furbank felt the brutality of the challenge but the Saracens man didn’t receive the punishment the tackle warranted

Sacacens coach Mark McCall branded the showing ‘our strongest defensive performance in years’

‘I thought it was our strongest defensive performance for years,’ said Saracens coach Mark McCall. ‘It’s always been the DNA of the club and that’s as good as we’ve been for a while to be honest. That laid the foundation for the victory and the performance.

‘I thought we got control of a very good attacking team. They are the sort of team who if they get quick ball from the first couple of phases they are hard to handle, the best team in the league in fact. We held them early in the phases and we backed that up with some physical shots.’

In attack, Farrell linked up seamlessly with Alex Goode. McCall has allowed his play-makers more freedom to make counter-attacking decisions this season and the likes of Goode have thrived. He chipped the ball over the last line of defence to set up Maitland’s first try, before Farrell’s grubber set up the Scotsman for his second.

Northampton coach Phil Dowson kept his counsel when asked the ‘What if?’ question, saying: ‘The referee didn’t give it. I don’t know where he was in conjunction with the ball in the air. Whether I agree with it or not is irrelevant.

‘You need to be lucky here, and whether that’s an element of the luck or not I don’t know. A couple of things didn’t go our way but I’m sure Sarries would say the same thing. That was one of those decisions that didn’t go our way, rightly or wrongly. Everyone will have an opinion on it, but it was still 15-a-side and we conceded three tries in the first half.’

The third score came after 30 minutes, with Ivan van Zyl showing his sharpness of mind when he tapped a penalty and darted under the posts. The No 9 has been one of the unsung heroes in a star-studded Saracens team, keeping Alex Mitchell under wraps for the bulk of the afternoon.

When Smith was turned over in the 47th minute, Farrell lifted his opposite number off the turf and kicked his side to an unassailable 21-point lead.

‘I think he’s so in control of his game that it’s not funny at the moment,’ McCall said of his playmaker.

Northampton’s Phil Dowson refused to disclose whether he agreed with the referee’s call

Owen Farrell’s side will now face either Sale or Leicester in the final at Twickenham as favourites

With the hour mark approaching, Northampton finally showed their true colours. Stitching together phases for the first time, Mitchell pumped a dummy to create a dogleg in defence, ghosting past three defenders to score.

Dowson unloaded his bench to inject some physicality and Northampton rediscovered their art of deception. They offloaded the ball and offered multiple running options, with Smith looping outside Itoje’s shoulder to create the space for a James Ramm try. For a moment, Northampton were trailing by only nine points.

Saracens, with their relentless appetite for trophies, flexed their muscles to book their place at Twickenham.

They were awarded a penalty try as Tom James was sin-binned for collapsing a maul, before Max Malins flew down the right wing to mark his final home appearance with a farewell try.

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