Aviva Premiership: London Irish 14 Saracens 51
- Credit: PA Wire/PA Images
Billy Vunipola handed England a big boost with his first match in three months as Saracens sealed second place in the Aviva Premiership with a 51-14 victory at already-relegated London Irish.
Fit-again Vunipola came off the bench in Saracens’ seven-try victory in Reading, tasting his first action since breaking his arm in a 15-15 Champions Cup draw at Opsreys on January 13.
The 25-year-old has not played Test rugby since March 2017, with knee and shoulder problems contributing to a wretched 18-month injury run.
But now Vunipola can chase full match sharpness ahead of both Saracens’ play-off campaign and England’s three-Test June tour to South Africa.
Saracens hardly needed to drive beyond second gear to cruise past Irish, whose second Premiership relegation in three years had been confirmed on Saturday with Worcester’s 44-13 win over Harlequins.
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Brad Barritt, Duncan Taylor, Michael Rhodes, Marcelo Bosch, Richard Barrington, Alex Goode and Schalk Brits all crossed in Sarries’ bonus-point victory, which secured the north Londoners a home Premiership semi-final, while Owen Farrell kicked five conversions and added two penalties.
The visitors comfortably shrugged off a yellow card for Maro Itoje, even though tries from Joe Cokanasiga and Johnny Williams had Irish trailing by just two points at half-time.
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An outclassed Irish will now kickstart the rebuilding process in a bid to make another immediate return to the top table, with new coaches Declan Kidney and Les Kiss expected to remain on board in the Championship next term.
Irish lock Josh McNally’s yellow card sparked Saracens’ early try glut, with the visitors crossing through Barritt and then Taylor.
Farrell missed a snatch drop-goal conversion from Barritt’s score, to avoid any chance of a Television Match Official (TMO) review.
First Taylor’s wide pass to Liam Williams looked possibly forward, then the latter fumbled a pass that could have fell forward too.
The score stood, though, and Sarries quickly doubled their try tally thanks to Farrell’s lovely step and wide pass, with Taylor coasting over.
Just when Sarries should have cut loose though, Irish hit back. Cokanasiga raced in at the right corner after Mako Vunipola’s loose pass, before team-mate Johnny Williams crossed on the stroke of half-time.
Itoje was harshly sin-binned for a deliberate knock-on and Irish seized full gain when Johnny Williams wriggled home and Greig Tonks converted.
Saracens led just 16-14 at the break then, but negotiated the remainder of Itoje’s sin-binning without leaking further score.
And no sooner had the England and Lions lock returned, Saracens claimed their third try, with Rhodes rising last from a penalty lineout maul.
Bosch then powered home the bonus-point score just ahead of the hour, with the visitors by then in full control.
Blair Cowan’s yellow card handed Barrington the chance to power home at the lineout tail, with Goode and Brits further massaging the scoreline at the death.