Saracens' epiphany came not in January but two months later, in , in the semi-final of the LV Cup. Until then they had been to flowing rugby what volcanic ash is to aviation. They went into that game on the back of three tries in eight league matches and playing at a funereal pace. Truly, the men in black.
They are a team transformed. They might have lost the semi-final by 11 points and four tries to one but they played without shackles and since then they have scored 21 tries in five matches, taking them into the play-offs where they will face Northampton for the fifth time this season. Only the venue has to be determined, but Sarries will be on the road unless they win at Leicester for the first time in their history and Saints lose at London Irish.
"We played a conservative style earlier in the season but the semi-final against Northampton, when we gave it a go, showed we were capable of throwing the ball around and we have not looked back," said the flanker Andy Saull, who has prospered from his side's adventure and who, in front of the England forwards coach, John Wells, made a compelling case for inclusion in the squad for the summer tour to Australia and New Zealand.
Northampton were not amused by Saracens' post-match celebrations, the home side's director of rugby, Jim Mallinder, saying it was as if the title had been won. It was a natural outpouring of emotion after the end of the Saints' 14-month unbeaten run at home. There might have been only a point between the teams and Shane Geraghty should have won the match for Northampton with a late conversion, but were more impressive.
They, with Leicester and Bath, have evolved since the winter of discontent. They have developed an offloading game that suits their marauding back row and the dynamic hooker Schalk Brits and, prompted by Glen Jackson, they have enhanced the creative influence of Adam Powell and Alex Goode behind.
They put together some thrilling moves here, but they have not forgotten where they came from. The early exchanges were feisty, with a transparent lack of goodwill after the move of the prop Soane Tonga'uiha from Northampton to Saracens was aborted this month. Sarries targeted the scrum and the final try came after they shoved Saints off their own ball. Tonga'uiha tried a few trademark charges but he was double-tackled each time. Northampton were direct, not stepping out of contact like Saracens to facilitate the offload and failing in the main to create openings for Ben Foden and Chris Ashton. They are playing pretty much as they have done all season but they have been overtaken.
They do have Geraghty, but he is largely confined to the bench. He was given 11 minutes on Saturday after Saracens regained the lead and he played a part in the try that led to his chance to win the game, The fly-half, however, was trying too hard. His self-belief looks shot.
Saracens are strutting. "We are taking play through phases and scoring tries," Saull said. "We will go to Leicester with confidence and if you are going to win the Premiership they are the games you have to do well in."
Northampton Foden; Ashton, Clarke (Ansbro, 78), Downey, Reihana; Myler (Geraghty, 76), Dickson; Tonga'uiha, Hartley (capt), Murray (Mujati, 66), Fernandez Lobbe (Best, 52), Kruger, Lawes, Dowson, Wilson (Easter, 75).
Try Penalty, Foden Con Myler Pens Myler 5.
Saracens Goode; Tagicakibau, Powell (Ratuvou, 68), Barritt (Hougaard, 80), Penney; Jackson, de Kock; Aguero (Gill, 68), Brits, du Plessis, Vyvyan, Botha (Ryder, 54), Burger (Melck, 75), Saull, Joubert (Reynecke, 80).
Tries Joubert, Powell, Penney Cons Jackson 2 Pens Jackson 3. Sin-bin Botha, 34.
Referee C White (Gloucestershire). Attendance 13,541.