December 6 2013 Latest news:
By James Cunliffe at Twickenham
Saturday, September 7, 2013
Premiership: London Irish 20 Saracens 42
Chris Ashton scored at the death to put 40 points past London Irish for the second London Double Header in a row and earn Saracens a bonus point victory to kick off their campaign.
The foundations for the Hendon side’s afternoon were put in place in the first half through a Jamie George brace and half of Owen Farrell’s 22-point haul with the boot after the fly-half edged his side into an early lead that they did not relinquish.
Mako Vunipola resumed his club career after a successful series win Down Under with the British and Irish Lions by crashing over just after the hour before Ashton put the icing on the cake.
There was, of course, some ring rust, as is to be expected in the first game of the season but Saracens were largely dominant in the forwards with summer signing Billy Vunipola acting as a battering ram on his competitive debut, while Jacques Burger attempted to cover every blade of the Twickenham turf as he marked a return to form following 18 months out through injury.
Sarries only conceded a penalty against the Exiles in last term’s curtain-raiser in a 40-3 triumph so 20 points on the board for London represents an improvement, while in Marland Yarde they have an explosive finisher.
Like the Vunipola brothers on the opposite side, the winger continued where he left off from an impressive introduction to international summer tour rugby, running in their final score. It was merely a consolation though.
England Under-20 hooker George, deputising for Schalk Brits, registered the opening try by bursting over from close range to add to Farrell’s early penalty. With the extras added, Irish fly-half Ian Humphreys struck back with a goal of his own.
Play slowed midway through the first period, not helped by a blood injury to Saracens skipper Steve Borthwick, who was replaced by George Kruis for five minutes while he got a gash on his face seen to.
After Farrell had extended his side’s lead to 13-3 Ashton fought his way to the line but referee Greg Garner correctly ruled that the England wing had been prevented from grounding the ball, declining Saracens’ appeals for a Television Match Official (TMO) review.
They didn’t have to wait long for second score and George was again the hero, this time as the beneficiary of quick ball from the lineout and series of decoy runners that saw the hooker cut a swathe to the line, avoiding the despairing dive of Tomas O’Leary on his way. Farrell failed with the extras and that gave Irish a sliver of hope which they took advantage of.
Flanker Kieran Low finished by beating three defenders in a determined run to the posts but his break was all down to an exquiste, unsighted offload from David Paice who took the tackles as he did so. Rhys Gill tried to hold up the Exiles scorer but a TMO decision added five points to London’s tally - seven after Humphreys had aimed true with his kick.
But the half time interval was bookended by two Farrell kicks, who missed another but then atoned soon after thanks to a series of wasteful penalties conceded by Irish.
Sarries weren’t exempt from errors and Humphreys gladly punished a misdemeanour with three points, but just as they had done for much of the match, one step forward was followed by two steps back for the men in green.
Mako Vunipola had forced a turnover deep in enemy territory and, a few phases later, the Lions prop finished off his good work by bullying his way between two defenders to score.
Farrell bisected the uprights to extend his side’s advantage to 34-13 but the Hendon outfit conceded again when Matt Stevens was sent to the bin for body checking an Irish kicker.
The Exiles took full advantage of their extra man as Chris Hala’ufia allowed Yarde to step on the gas from the 22 line, screaming past last man Richard Wigglesworth out wide. Humphreys slotted the conversion but again from the restart his side fell victim to Mr Garner’s whistle.
Farrell’s shot from in front of the posts was accurate and left London with an insurmountable 17 points to recover in seven minutes.
There was still time for Ashton to get in on the act after a promising pre-season campaign where he had bagged a brace in each of his last two friendly outings.
The winger looked to have been denied his path to the line but span under the challenge of Eamonn Sheridan and stretched for the whitewash, just about grounding the ball on the paint by spinning the ball around to leave the TMO with an easy decision. Farrell missed with the conversion but it mattered little as maximum points made for a pleasing start for Sarries.
London Irish: 15. Topsy Ojo; 14. Marland Yarde; 13. Guy Armitage; 12. Eamonn Sheridan; 11. Sailosi Tagicakibau; 10. Ian Humphreys; 9. Tomás O’Leary (c); 1. Matt Parr; 2. David Paice; 3. Halani Aulika; 4. Nic Rouse; 5. Bryn Evans; 6. Kieran Low; 7. Ofisa Treviranus; 8. Jon Fisher.
Replacements (all used): 16. Jimmy Stevens; 17 John Yapp; 18. Leo Halavatau; 19. Declan Danaher; 20. Chris Hala’ufia; 21. Andrew Fenby; 22. Shane Geraghty; 23. Darren Allinson
Saracens: 15 Chris Wyles, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Joel Tomkins, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 David Strettle, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 1 Rhys Gill, 2 Jamie George, 3 Matt Stevens, 4 Steve Borthwick (c), 5 Alistair Hargreaves, 6 Billy Vunipola, 7 Jacques Burger, 8 Ernst Joubert
Replacements (all used): 16 Scott Spurling, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Petrus du Plessis, 19 George Kruis, 20 Jackson Wray, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 Nils Mordt, 23 Ben Ransom