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Saracens’ win over Worcester shows defensive strength is key

PUBLISHED: 17:01 07 September 2016

Saracens' Billy Vunipola is tackled by Worcester Warriors' Ryan Lamb during the Aviva Premiership match at Twickenham.

Saracens' Billy Vunipola is tackled by Worcester Warriors' Ryan Lamb during the Aviva Premiership match at Twickenham.

PA Wire/Press Association Images

Saracens began their Aviva Premiership title defence with a resounding bonus point win over Worcester at Twickenham on Saturday.

Man of the match and No8 Billy Vunipola starred in an unconvincing display, despite the Hendon-based club scoring four second-half tries for the bonus point win.

Handling errors were aplenty – evident of an opening fixture of a new campaign and it wasn’t until the second half that Saracens were really able to express themselves.

The attacking prowess and depth at Saracens is undeniable, but their defensive capabilities could be the key to defending their domestic title this season.

Mark McCall’s men look to have worked on defence in pre-season, particularly around the breakdown and their turnover success.

Maro Itoje and George Kruis are notorious for disrupting the breakdown, but it’s their decision-making that really stands out.

Knowing when to attack the breakdown and when to step in to the line of defence shows how well they read the game, as well as how compact a back line they have.

It was a tale of two halves against Worcester, but Sarries defended solidly throughout. The Warriors weren’t given any space to run and only made it past the Saracens 22-metre line twice.

The strength of their second-half performance highlighted their exceptional ability to turn defence into attack, epitomised by Ben Spencer’s try late on to seal the bonus point victory. A full 80-minute performance could have been disastrous for Worcester, particularly as chances went begging early on.

The physicality of the Saracens defence shows their intent on breaking down their opponents, winning turnovers and getting onto the front foot and building an attacking play.

The Vunipola brothers, Schalk Burger and captain Brad Barritt are all fantastic ball carriers, but their capabilities in defence complement their all-round game and they will tackle until the final whistle – so much so that Sarries only missed half a dozen tackles all game.

In the context of the game and even the season, it’s certainly a huge positive and achievement that they can take to their next assignment, at Exeter Chiefs on Sunday.

The Chiefs will certainly pose a different threat to Worcester, taking the game to Saracens up front and certainly looking to be physical. Sarries’ mindset will be on playing for 80 minutes rather than 40 as was the case at Twickenham.

A good start at Sandy Park will give them the belief and momentum to grind out a much-needed win. There will be plenty to work on as they’ll want to put to bed the amount of handling errors that cost them in vital areas against Worcester.

As the season progresses, we’ll see a much more refined Saracens side chasing back-to-back title success. It’s very early days but, from Saracens’ second half performance, they will only continue to get better.

Whether their rivals can keep up will be fascinating to see. The Premiership isn’t won in September, but Sarries certainly seem to be the team to beat.

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