No fairytale ending for Owen Farrell as Northampton edge past Saracens to reach Premiership final

Owen Farrell could not quite drag Saracens into the final (Getty Images)
Owen Farrell could not quite drag Saracens into the final (Getty Images)

Owen Farrell’s 16 years bending everything in English rugby to his iron will is finally over.

The 32-year-old so nearly made the rugby world turn his way once more, almost pulling off what would have been a remarkable smash and grab raid at Northampton.

But despite a classic Farrell performance, amid a clear leg injury, the former England captain could not drag Sarries across the line. Northampton edged out Saracens 22-20 at Franklin’s Gardens, to book their place in the Premiership final next weekend.

Saracens’ time as Premiership champions is over, and so is Farrell’s career in English rugby. No magnificent seventh league title for Farrell and company then. Instead, an unlucky 13th Premiership semi-final for Saracens.

Farrell has won six league titles and three European Cups with Saracens, but now he has donned the north London black for the last time.

The 112-cap playmaker will head to France, for a reunion with former England coach Stuart Lancaster at Parisian giants Racing 92. How he has earned that Indian-summer switch, for both himself and his family.

That he cannot go out in more silverware style will hurt this proud Saracens son. But that he went out on his shield will allow him to look back and know he left it all out there too. Fin Smith’s five penalties and a conversion saw Saints home, who bagged a fine try through Burger Odendaal. This was England’s future generational 10 proving his point against the previous man to dominate that shirt.

Saracens did claim two tries, through Alex Lewington and Lucio Cinti, but this was a third-straight loss to Saints this season.

Northampton are deserved finalists, having topped the regular season table. Now the East Midlanders will face Bath or Sale at Twickenham next weekend, with Courtney Lawes eyeing the perfect send-off before moving to Brive.

Saracens came with their heads fully switched on, ready to scrap but also play a bit too. Elliot Daly banged over two penalties as Sarries dogged out and dominated the early tight collisions, catching Saints unawares.

In the end though, Saints managed to turn Saracens’ stunning defensive line speed to their own advantage.

Saints stayed patient and waited for Sarries to overcommit, and then struck gold. George Furbank delayed and delayed the pass, then delayed it again for good measure – before standing up three Saracens raiders to send Odendaal careering through the line.

Not even a full-stretch dive tap from Farrell could derail the runaway train centre, and Saints had a vital try. Smith’s conversion put the hosts 7-6 up, settling a few Saints nerves.Sarries hit back straight away, hooker Jamie George nipping in after a neat grubber down the right. But the try was chalked off for offside, and it proved a blow the visitors could not shake before the break.

Smith landed three penalties as Sarries started to wobble, with both Farrell and Daly conceding uncharacteristic and costly knock-ons. The third of those goals allowed Saints to turn around in charge at 16-6, with Sarries staring down the barrel big-time.

Northampton’s first-half display proved to be good enough (Getty Images)
Northampton’s first-half display proved to be good enough (Getty Images)

The StoneX Stadium men summoned something from somewhere at the interval though, and hauled themselves back into this clash in some style.

First, the visitors kept Saints scoreless in the opening 10 minutes of the second-half, then they struck in the way no one expected. Some 11 phases into a considered attack in the Saints half, Farrell shaped to pass then tiptoed clean through the line instead. Once he was away, he had the presence of mind to grubber out to the left wing – and Lewington was on hand to fly home.

Daly lined up the touchline conversion, and despite an iffy connection, dropped it over the bar. The home crowd barracked him with donkey noises, but when the ball sailed home, he turned to the Saints faithful and fist-pumped in response.

Sarries cut Saints’ lead to 16-13 approaching the hour – and now we had ourselves a semi-final. Saints swept straight back onto the attack, sending Alex Mitchell haring into the corner. But as he shaped to finish, up popped Juan Martin Gonzalez with a monster airborne hit to drag Mitchell into touch.

Smith shanked an eminently kickable penalty next as the pressure just started to tell on the hosts. Only minutes later however, he atoned from the tee, to stretch the home lead to 19-13. And when he converted his fifth penalty of the night, with 10 minutes to play, Saints began to believe they were set for victory.

Sarries refused to go quietly though, and Farrell and Daly conspired to send centre Cinti over for their second score of the night. Daly fired home the conversion, and with a minute to play, Sarries trailed by just two points, at 22-20 down.

Saracens retrieved the restart and launched one more desperate attack, but this time they could not get away – and this time, Farrell’s time had run out.

How Northampton deserve a shot at a second Premiership title, some 10 years after their first.

A tough exit for Farrell, but also a fine fight to the very last.