Twenty minutes into Saints home victory over Saracens, just after Moon and Ludlam had crossed the line to score and perhaps three more scoring chances were lost to butterfingers, BT Sport had a touchline chat with one of the visiting coaches.
He was asked to reflect on how well his side were controlling the game. To be fair, he did seem a bit wrongfooted by the question.
A lot of Sarries’ most famous names had been swapped out for this game. Duncan Taylor had been red carded for head contact in a tackle in the seventh minute. The visitors had just gone behind, a situation they would remain in for the rest of the game during which they would concede six tries and 38 points.
The narrative being offered in commentary was ‘how are they going to get this back?’
Every fumble and error by Saints, who did look like two weeks off might be good for their bodies but bad for their execution, was presented as evidence that this side (with a famously bad defensive record) was not top four material.
Now I’m not trying to alter reality here. Just like the players in any game, there is no Saints error that I wished hadn’t happened. But perhaps I am getting a little bit sick of the unconscious snobbery that swirls around the upper echelons of rugby in the coverage and the commentary.
Some of my beef is a product of the fact that the people covering rugby know the most about the most famous teams and the most famous players, so they can say more about them. The worst offenders are those covering international matches but it’s a factor in the mix. Back in the day we would have called it poor journalism.
Player pundits can give really good insights but they are most useful when talking about players and teams they know, which is of course also the most difficult stuff to talk about.
Breezing through some of the social media and national media match reports after the game I was reading dismissive accounts of a match rendered meaningless by a red card and the number of squad players in Sarries line-up. You would have thought Saracens had just sneaked a win in the dying moments rather than finishing two scores behind.
Saints have been in games where we got a battering and nearly clawed our way back, and we didn’t get handed a moral victory by the media afterwards. In the corresponding fixture at Saracens we lost by one score. Well, that’s pretty much a win isn’t it. I’m sure we had a couple of players missing. There were a couple of yellow cards.
It wouldn’t be so bad if we hadn’t been consistently hovering around the top four at the end of the season for the past few years. Sure, not feeling like we deserved it, feeling like the poor neighbours among rugby’s posher names, believing that we are too much of a nice community club to be a real sexy threat but it was us there, not one of the many teams with a better defensive balance sheet.
Pundits have got to stop wheeling out Saints’ defensive record as if it was conclusive proof of something when by now surely the more interesting question is the fact that it isn’t proof of anything at all.
How are Saints doing so well with that heavy chain of defensive sins strung about their necks? The only way to win a game of rugby is to find enough space between the meat to put the ball where you want it.
How much difference did Saracens being a man down really make? Obviously it’s an advantage but it doesn’t play out the same way it does in football. To some extent the gap it creates has to be manufactured by the attacking team. Saints still needed to do a lot right to put so many points past Saracens.
Dave Ribbans was awarded Player of the Match for his last home game for Saints but James Ramm and Alex Mitchell put in big big shifts and Courtney Lawes was applauded off the pitch when his turn came.
Ramm runs tricky lines with afterburner acceleration and ensures contact is never neat and tidy for the tackler. He’s fast and abrasive and rarely stopped by just one defender. Hopefully the injury that took him off the field has not ended his season.
There were times in this game when it really did look like Mitchell was motoring, delivering quick ball that was arriving back at the gain line before Sarries were reset.
Saints did plenty right in this game and they couldn’t do anything more in terms of points. Five against Saracens despite the upturned noses in the wider rugby world. I’m not even saying I want the snobbery to stop, but I would like us to harness it for ourselves.
These people don’t think we deserve what we have got through bringing on young talent, buying smart and investing in the community. The snobs don’t look at Northampton and see big news stories about huge transfer payments and salary scandals. They don’t understand us. They think we’re an easy win. It makes me angry. That’s part of our story and we should use it.
Pictures by Dave Ikin