By Will Castle

Hopes of a farewell title for what remains of Saracens’ golden generation were ended in dramatic fashion as Northampton Saints came out on top in a thrilling Gallagher Premiership semi-final.

Taking to Franklin’s Gardens on Friday evening as underdogs, Sarries were posed with the challenge of pipping the league’s table toppers to a place at Twickenham.

Northampton had lost three semi-finals in the past five years but banished those demons with a 22-20 victory to ensure that the last game in English rugby for Billy Vunipola, Maku Vunipola and, for now, Owen Farrell ended in a defeat.

Unable to deliver a fairytale exit for three legendary Saracens stars, director of rugby McCall said: “I feel quite emotional, really. They’ve been incredible for our club for a very long period of time.

“The vision was always that they would look back on their time at Saracens and it would be the best time of their lives, and hopefully that’s the case, that they would build friendships and relationships which would last a lifetime.

“We’ve had some incredible moments with those players and some tough moments as well, and I think the tough moments have made those good moments even better.”

While much of the build-up focussed on the imminent departure of Sarries icon and former England captain Farrell, it was his opposite number, Fin Smith, who stole the headlines.

Kicking a vital 17 points, the 22-year-old stamped his mark as a worthy successor to Farrell as England’s clutch fly-half, putting in a stellar performance alongside the likes of scrum-half Alex Mitchell, tighthead Trevor Davison and flanker Tom Pearson, who were similarly superb.

Shaking off the big-game jitters to deny Saracens a third successive Premiership Final, McCall admitted that he expects much more of the same from the Saints.

He added: “Northampton have been the best team by miles this season and they have strengthened their game in the areas they need to in the set piece and in defence.

“They were ferocious there today. They are going to be a force for a long time.”

Friday capped off an imperfect season for the Londoners, who after years of comfortable top-two finishes were only able to claw their way into the playoffs this term, scraping into fourth.

Growing weaknesses on and off the pitch have seen Saracens fall off their pedestal as the team above the rest, something that has been indicative of a golden era nearing its end.

Having lifted the Premiership five times and the Champions Cup three times in the past decade, Sarries supporters have enjoyed more success in the last ten years than many rugby fans will witness in a lifetime.

Even after being sanctioned with relegation in 2020 due to salary cap breaches, it took only two seasons for the Men in Black to return to their typical heights, earning promotion in 2021 before featuring in the 2022 Premiership Rugby Final.

Farrell and the Vunipola brothers have remained ever-present during these glory years – but with all three on the out, along with the likes of Alex Lewington and Sean Maitland, McCall’s dressing room is about to suffer a serious exodus in leadership figures.

New stars will need to rise to the forefront, filling the void to support the only remaining member of Sarries’ famous ‘Class of 08’, Jamie George, as they bid to ensure the good times return to the StoneX.