Aviva Premiership: Wasps 15 Saracens 38
PUBLISHED: 17:19 07 January 2018 | UPDATED: 17:19 07 January 2018
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Billy Vunipola made a successful comeback from shoulder surgery as Saracens survived a Wasps fightback to record a convincing Aviva Premiership victory at the Ricoh Arena.
Vunipola made his first appearance for four months, having recovered from a third major surgery in 10 months, and the giant number eight was a force for the 69 minutes he was on the pitch.
In a further NatWest Six Nations boost for England, Maro Itoje returned from four weeks out with a fractured jaw and, while less conspicuous than the marauding Vunipola, he also came through unscathed.
The forwards helped second-placed Saracens to a bonus-point triumph that, combined with Exeter’s defeat at Newcastle, slashed the Chiefs’ lead at the summit of the Premiership to five points.
Tries by Chris Wyles, Alex Goode and Schalk Burger helped the visitors establish an 18-3 lead at the half-hour mark – the hosts on the board through a Danny Cipriani penalty – but Wasps struck back with a little help from referee Wayne Barnes, who sent Burger and Owen Farrell to the sin-bin in quick succession.
A penalty try and Willie Le Roux touchdown reduced the deficit to three points, but, after a helter-skelter start to the third quarter, Saracens reasserted themselves and eased clear through Goode and Ben Spencer tries.
Vunipola was involved in their try-scoring start by charging a path behind the home defence to force the initial crack.
Burger’s slipped pass to Vincent Koch and man of the match Michael Rhodes continued the move and, when an overlap opened on the left, Farrell fired the scoring pass to Wyles.
Goode crossed for the second five minutes later after Brad Barrett and Rhodes had renewed the attack, with Farrell’s long pass finding Chris Tolofua who rode the tackle of Christian Wade before feeding his full-back.
Saracens continued to dominate and, having gone close in the right corner through Richard Wigglesworth, Vunipola’s power enabled them to touch down several phases later.
James Gaskell and Thomas Young allowed Vunipola to build up a head of steam and it was fatal as he barrelled between them, causing havoc in the Wasps rearguard that ended when Burger strolled across the whitewash.
The match was in danger of running away from last season’s Premiership runners-up. In the 37th minute it was turned on its head when Burger was sin-binned for stopping a Wasps drive from an offside position.
Barnes also awarded a penalty try and, shortly after, Farrell followed Burger off the pitch for a high tackle on Dan Robson, leaving Saracens to play almost seven minutes with 13 men.
A line-out just before half-time offered Wasps the chance to attack again and their precision was impeccable as they created the space for Wade to cause doubt in the tacklers’ minds before Le Roux arrived to score.
The European champions began to take a grip after a thrilling start to the second half and, following a series of drives that included involvements from Vunipola and Itoje, Goode weaved a path over the whitewash.
Farrell kicked his third penalty to sweep Saracens out of sight, with Spencer’s 79th-minute score – converted by Farrell – completing the rout.