Northampton edge Saracens to reach Premiership final

Burger Odendaal dives over the line to score the game's first try for Northampton Saints against Saracens
Burger Odendaal scored the game's first try in Northampton's semi-final defeat of Saracens [Getty Images]

Gallagher Premiership semi-final

Northampton: (16) 22

Tries: Odendaal Pens: F Smith 5 Cons: F Smith

Saracens: (6) 20

Tries: Lewington, Cinti Pens: Daly 2 Cons: Daly 2

Premiership table-toppers Northampton Saints held on to seal their place in the grand final with a thrilling 22-20 win over Saracens.

Fin Smith kicked five penalties in a low-scoring match while Owen Farrell played through injury in his final appearance for Saracens.

Burger Odendaal’s try put the home side on their way to a 10-point lead at half-time.

Sarries hit back after the break through Alex Lewington before Lucio Cinti's 79th-minute try set up a grandstand finish but the visitors were denied.

Saints advance to the Twickenham final on 8 June against the winners of the Bath-Sale Sharks game, who play on Saturday.

Saracens looked transformed from the team beaten at home by Sale on the final day of the season as they put in several big tackles and prevented Saints from getting a foothold in the game, with two Elliot Daly penalties giving the away side a 6-0 lead.

But the tide would soon change and Saints were ahead after Odendaal powered through the Saracens defence to score the game’s first try, with Fin Smith converting.

England captain Jamie George then had a try disallowed for offside in a crisp attack moments after Saracens lost Tom Parton to injury, with Alex Lozowski coming on to replace the winger.

Three unanswered penalties from Fin Smith gave Saints a 10-point lead at half-time as Northampton began to show the kind of form that saw them finish top of the table this season.

It was confirmed after full-time that Farrell injured his leg on Monday and passed on kicking duties to Daly, but with their only outside back option already on the pitch it was looking like an uphill battle for the side to turn it round.

But the former England skipper’s moment came in the 55th minute as the ball came to him on the left hand side and the fly-half nudged a pinpoint kick through to the sprinting Lewington to touch down in the corner, with Daly converting to reduce the gap to three points.

Saracens had made a raft of changes and the fresh legs appeared to give them a new lease of life but Saints soon grew back into the game, just as they had done in the first half.

Juan Martin Gonzalez made a huge tackle to deny Saints scrum-half Alex Mitchell a stunning try as he tore away towards the left corner.

A fifth successful penalty then gave Saints a nine-point lead with fewer than 10 minutes to play.

Cinti’s 78th-minute try set up a nervy final minute but Saints ended the semi-final as worthy winners, as they aim to cap a fine season with their second Premiership title.

Northampton director of rugby Phil Dowson told BBC Sport:

"The players were so hungry for it. Courtney straight away after the game said, 'that's great lads, you played really well against a very good team but the job's not done'.

"We've played them all before [Bath and Sale] so we know what they're capable of, it'll be an interesting game tomorrow."

Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall told BBC Sport:

"I thought it was a brilliant battle, I thought in the first half it was a pretty even contest and we had about as much possession as them.

"We battled hard but never really had control of the game.

"I was massively impressed [by Saints], obviously they've been the best team by miles this season."

On Farrell: "We weren't sure if he was going to play, to be honest.

"He hurt himself on Monday and we had to see if he was going to get through the warm-up.

"It was quite remarkable that he was on one leg and it was going to affect our kicking game, it was incredible for him in his last game for Saracens and to do that for the team."

Northampton: Furbank; Freeman, Odendaal, Dingwall, Sleightholme; F Smith Mitchell; A Waller, Langdon, Davison; Moon, Coles; Lawes C, Pearson, Augustus

Replacements: S Matavesi, Iyogun, Millar Mills, Mayanavanua, Graham, Ludlam, James, Hendy

Saracens: Daly; Lewington, Cinti, Tompkins, Parton; Farrell C, Van Zyl; M Vunipola, George, Riccioni; Itoje, Isiekwe; Gonzalez, Earl, B Vunipola

Replacements: Dan, Mawi, Hoskins, Tizard, McFarland, Willis, Davies, Lozowski

Referee: Christophe Ridley