Saints pack plenty of punch to reach final
May 16, 2014
Ben Foden enjoys the win while the Tigers lie dejected on the Franklin's Gardens turf © Getty Images
Bruising, bloody, brilliant. This semi-final will go down as one of the great Aviva Premiership knockout games. It was 80 minutes of pulsating rugby with no quarter given as the players from both sides put bodies on the line but in the end it is the Saints who will journey to Twickenham on May 31.
All great games need an official at the top of his game presiding over it. The inevitable post-mortems will look at J.P Doyle's refereeing, but he got the big decisions spot on. He was correct to red card Salesi Ma'afu for his moment of madness, one that will see him probably suspended for the final, and he officiated the game with accuracy and efficiency.
He did not panic in the cauldron of Franklin's Gardens; it was a ground belittled by Richard Cockerill in the week when he labelled it "small", a lesser attendance than Welford Road it may be but the atmosphere was electric from the minute the first tackle was made in anger.
While all great games need an accurate official, so too it needs the players to be on form. While some of the kicking was wayward from both sides, the commitment was staggering. There was one wonderful moment in the second-half when Jordan Crane and Julian Salvi both went to block an attempted kick through from George North, there was no sense of self-preservation but just pure commitment.
In the end it was the Saints who did enough to get the win. Tom Wood put in a fantastic shift throughout while Stephen Myler offered an assured presence at No.10. Lee Dickson's introduction also upped the tempo in the backs and he helped bring North on to the ball more.
For the Tigers, Salvi was a constant menace at the breakdown in a team that saw three yellow cards over the course of the match. But for all their commitment and attempts to force the tempo of the match - though Mathew Tait struggled with kicking, his attacking with ball in hand was at times breathtaking - they will take little solace from that. It will be their arch rivals who march on to Twickenham.
Saints boss Jim Mallinder now has the headache of juggling his squad with his side in the Amlin Challenge Cup final on Friday. He admitted post-match he may rotate a few of his players but the desire within the squad will stay the same. At the end of the match, Saints' Kahn Fotuali'i wrote "it's our time" on a ball he was going to propel into the stands, it will take some effort to stop Northampton from lifting some silverware this season.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.
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