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By James Cunliffe at Allianz Park
Saturday, December 14, 2013
Heineken Cup Pool 3: Saracens 64 Zebre 3
The ‘Ash Splash’ made a long awaited return as Chris Ashton scored a stunning try at the death to complete Saracens’ biggest ever win at Allianz Park and move top of Heineken Cup Pool 3.
They were always going to beat Italian minnows Zebre but a nine-try romp was nothing more than they deserved in an utterly dominant display to mark the first European tie played at their Hendon headquarters.
More importantly it put the pressure, for a couple of hours at least, back on Toulouse who play last week’s conquerors Connacht at the Sportsground this evening.
Sarries effectively ensured maximum points inside the first half hour as David Strettle, Jacques Burger, Jamie George and Richard Wigglesworth all crossed the whitewash.
There were further scores from Ben Ransom, Billy Vunipola and a brace from Duncan Taylor before Ashton raced from his own 22 to move level with Chris Wyles as the club’s all-time top try-scorer in the competition with eight.
Last week in Parma, Saracens had fired 39 points after a fast start but they improved on that on home soil with the Italians behind just two minutes into the match when Farrell slotted a penalty on his first taste action since England’s autumn international defeat to New Zealand.
That lead was extended when Strettle burst free in the corner to notch his seventh of the season after being fed in by Ransom. Farrell converted.
Burger supplied the finish from a close range lineout drive, flopping over the line amid a crowd of bodies and, though Saracens’ fly-half missed with the extras, his side were on east street.
George, who had a commanding game, finished a carbon copy of the second score as the Londoners punished Nicola Cattina for a foul in the line that saw him sent for a spell on the sidelines. Straight from the next set piece, Steve Borthwick collected George’s throw-in before giving it back to the hooker to touch down courtesy of another devastating rolling maul.
The bonus point was secure before the half hour mark and it was a stunning try that saw Ashton play a one-two with Taylor before the England wing fed inside to Wigglesworth who strolled between the sticks, leaving an easy conversion for Farrell.
The Italians did get on the scoreboard moments later with a mammoth penalty goal from the halfway line by Luciano Orquera.
Borthwick and Richard Barrington made way at the break with Alastair Hargreaves coming on with Mako Vunipola making his return from a knee injury sustained on international duty with England.
A fifth try followed and it owed everything to a lightning burst from George after Billy Vunipola had crashed into yellow shirts to create the space in the midfield, offloading before he was stopped in his tracks. The hooker was rapid as he ate up the ground before slipping Ransom in between the uprights. Farrell did the rest with the boot.
Wigglesworth caught Zebre napping with a quick tap and a popped pass to Taylor who was screaming through on a cracking line that saw him dive over before the Italians had a chance to figure what had happened. Farrell again added the extras.
The centre added his second to bring up Saracens’ half century of points with a fabulously well-worked score that went through the hands of Schalk Brits and Farrell before Marcello Bosch and his centre colleague chucked it back and forth between them. The Scottish international eventually took the invitation to cross but at a cost as he injured his knee in the process and was forced off, replaced by Charlie Hodgson.
Billy Vunipola forced his way over with the help of lock George Kruis for his side’s eighth score, while Farrell bisected the posts.
Zebre thought they’d claimed a consolation try late in the game but as Giiulio Toniolatti ran between the uprights referee Dudley Phillips, rather sheepishly, had no choice but to rule it out as he himself had obstructed the winger’s run.
Jackson Wray’s afternoon ended early with a yellow card and as the second row trudged off the pitch he was announced as the man of the match much to the amusement of the crowd.
But they were delighted even more by the score of the game as the best was saved until last. Ashton ran from his own 22 before unveiling, for the first time this term, his trademark celebration that, last year, he said he never do again.
Farrell punting the conversion to claim 19 points with the boot and bring the game to its conclusion.
Saracens: 15. Ben Ransom ; 14. Chris Ashton, 13. Marcelo Bosch, 12. Duncan Taylor, 11. David Strettle; 10. Owen Farrell, 9. Richard Wigglesworth; 1. Richard Barrington, 2. Jamie George, 3. James Johnston, 4. Steve Borthwick (c), 5. George Kruis, 6. Jackson Wray, 7. Jacques Burger, 8. Billy Vunipola.
Replacements (all used): 16. Schalk Brits, 17. Mako Vunipola, 18. Matt Stevens, 19. Alastair Hargreaves. 20. Ernst Joubert, 21. Neil de Kock, 22. Charlie Hodgson, 23. Alex Goode.
Scorers: Tries – Strettle, Burger, George, Wigglesworth, Ransom, Taylor 2, B.Vunipola, Ashton; cons – Farrell 8; pens - Farrell;
Scorers: Pen - Orquera