December 6 2013 Latest news:
By James Cunliffe at Allianz Park
Sunday, September 22, 2013
Premiership: Saracens 31 Bath 17
Saracens fired a firm warning to their rivals with a destruction of unblemished Bath to claim their third straight maximum points haul and take their place atop of the Aviva Premiership.
Boxers are fond of saying that they don’t get paid for overtime and. likewise, the Hendon side delivered four knockout blows to leave their opponents dazed on the canvas by half time.
With both sides unbeaten so far this term prior to this meeting, had it been a heavyweight clash of the fistic variety then Bath gave every impression of already being bested before stepping into the ring as they left a number of first team stars bizarrely left on the bench.
They peeled themselves off the mat to put up more of a fight in the second half but it was very much after the Lord Mayor’s Show. Even then, the two scores they did register should stick in the craw of Sarries as they were two easily avoidable efforts.
In any case Bath’s scores were merely an epilogue to the poetry of the home side’s ruthless offence in a stunning first 40 minutes. Winger David Strettle scored a brace for the second successive week while Matt Stevens weighed in with an audacious diving try and Alex Goode marked his rapid return from a shoulder reconstruction surgery by wriggling over.
It was a scoring rampage that even overshadowed Owen Farrell joining the 500 club as his 11 points were enough to edge him onto another important top flight milestone.
The first of those goals came just three minutes in, but opposite number Tom Heathcote squared the scores soon after the Television Match Official correctly ruled that Alafoti Fa’osiliva had not grounded the ball through a mess of bodies on the Sarries try-line. The Hendon side would only have to endure parity for five minutes before they clicked so stunningly into top gear.
Theirs and Strettle’s opening score came from a lineout they lost. Mako Vunipola was quickest to the loose ball slapped down away the set piece and it was eventually spun out wide to were the winger was waiting to pounce.
That was the first glimpse of the dominance the home side would exert on Bath’s weakened pack and would eventually lead to a first half tactical change with Paul James replacing overawed prop Anthony Perenise. By the time Dave Attwood and Matt Garvey got the the second half call to join the visitors’ scrum in, the game had disappeared out of sight.
That was after Goode had finished off a passage of play that owed everything to the impressive performance of wing Chris Ashton. The England marksman didn’t score but his all round play was exceptional and the first clue to that was when chased a kick, forcing Tom Biggs to fumble the high ball. A couple of phases later, and via a crashing Billy Vunipola line, Goode was in.
The 17-3 advantage saw Bath crumble with help in no small part from a monstrously bruising display by Jacques Burger who forced errors and secured turnover ball with bone-crunching regularity.
The away side’s afternoon got even worse just before the half time interval when Rob Webber was sent to the bin for repeated infringements as Saracens went looking for a third score. As soon as Bath were a man light, they got it.
The hosts had been camped on the try-line attempting to find a way through until Stevens decided that if he couldn’t bash a hole in the wall he would simply go over it, and he sprang from the base of a ruck, diving over bodies to dot down. The TMO was called in for good measure but it just gave Allianz Park a wonderful slow motion replay of the inventive try.
Saracens were not finished and the early bonus point was secured in the last seconds of the half, with Ashton again instrumental – and it was a case of if at first you don’t succeed try, try again.
Moments earlier a grubber kick from the wing to Chris Wyles via Strettle didn’t stick in the US international’s hands and then his clear route to the whitewash was hampered by an unfortunate bounce. But Sarries recycled the ball and Ashton, popping up on the other wing, was on the end of a fabulous long pass to play in his fellow wideman for his second of the contest.
As was perhaps expected, Bath brought in their big guns after the interval and Jonathan Joseph immediately made a strong break from the kick-off, but the move ended in disappointment as they couldn’t make the most of a three-man overlap once Strettle had thundered in a big covering tackle.
It was stop-start from there with the visitors huffing and puffing but never looking threatening, despite the imposing introduction of fly-half George Ford. That was until Goode threw a horrible pass inside Bath’s 22 with Semesa Rokodugundi gobbling it up and dashing 80 metres to touch down.
There was a debut for Sarries new boy Richard Barrington as he replaced Mako Vunipola while before that a huge cheer was reserved for Kelly Brown who came on for Burger to get his first run out of the season after an ankle ligament injury.
The Hendon club’s offer to refund tickets if their former centre Gavin Henson, in Bath’s midfield, scored a point went unfilled with the former Wales back unable to make an impression, getting replaced to cheers from the home faithful.
Ford, who’d at least been instrumental in stopping the rot among Bath’s ranks, thought he might be in for a long range try but Ashton showed his defensive skills once more to marshall then drag him down, even receiving a cut to his eyebrow into the bargain.
Bath would have the last say as Attwood burrowed over at the death but there was no doubt that Sarries are well into their stride this season and a London derby at Harlequins next weekend – who themselves found their scoring form this weekend – looks a mouth-watering prospect.
Saracens: Goode (Ransom), Ashton, Wyles, Taylor (Mordt), Strettle, Farrell, Wigglesworth (De Kock), M.Vunipola (Barrington), Brits (George), Stevens (Johnstone), Borthwick ( Hargreaves), Kruis, B.Vunipola, Burger (Brown), Joubert
Bath: Watson, Rokodugundi, Banahan, Henson (Joseph), Biggs, Heathcote, Roberts (Young), Perenise, Webber, Wilson, Hooper, Day (Attwood), Fa’osiliva (Dunn), Mercer (Garvey), Houston
Unused replacements: Palma-Newport
Referee: JP Doyle