Saracens title hopes take a blow after uncharacteristic display at Worcester
PUBLISHED: 11:03 14 February 2017 | UPDATED: 11:03 14 February 2017
PA Wire/Press Association Images
An uncharacteristic display of ill discipline meant that Saracens were handed only their third defeat of the season at Worcester on Saturday and are now playing catch up with Wasps at the top of the Aviva Premiership.
Sarries’ torrid penalty count allowed Warriors’ fly-half Ryan Mills to kick his team to a 24-18 win at Sixways.
The Hendon-based club went into the weekend just three points adrift of leaders Wasps, who travelled to Exeter Chiefs and with Sarries having beaten 10th placed Worcester at Twickenham on the opening weekend of the season, they were firm favourites in the West Midlands fixture.
But it was not to be. They did salvage a losing bonus point but a wait for the result at Sandy Park showed the extent of the damage done.
A high-scoring draw in the South West meant Wasps extended their lead at the top to five points. And it also saw the Chiefs close to within five and very much in sight of the reigning champions.
With key players absent due to injuries and international duties in the Six Nations, Sarries looked a team lacking leadership and failed to assert themselves in the game. It was perhaps the one time this season the team looked vulnerable, particularly at the set piece - an area of the game they are so accomplished.
That said it was arguably Sarries’ strongest possible team given the circumstances but even captain Brad Barritt, returning from a three-week suspension, couldn’t inject the energy and resolve into the team.
Man-of-the-moment Nick Tompkins wasn’t able to make his mark either on a game that Worcester took full control of from the off.
Despite scores from Chris Ashton and Schalk Brits, opportunities went amiss. Had two penalty kicks not gone astray, they could have changed the outcome of the result. As the business end of the season looms, the margin for error becomes even smaller and winning bonus points could make all the difference.
But thankfully for Sarries there were positives. Young fly-half Max Malins, not long having signed a contract extension with the senior academy, made his senior debut following outstanding performances in the Anglo-Welsh Cup and U20 Six Nations with England.
His introduction to Premiership rugby in the second half wouldn’t have been the start he would have wanted but nonetheless shows the direction he is heading with the club.
Saracens are next in action at Gloucester on Friday and director of rugby Mark McCall and his men will have to contend with a resurgent Gloucester side that have shown vast improvements in recent weeks.
The clash at Kingsholm could have a significant bearing on the outcome of the standings after round 15 and Sarries will be hoping for a more comfortable evening than last year, when a penalty in the dying stages secured a 17-15 victory.
They will need to be wary of the threat of centre Matt Scott – eight tries to his name and third overall in the try scoring department.
Defence will need to play a key part in the week’s preparations with Gloucester having racked up 133 points from their last three home games in all competitions, a big task for a depleted side in search of back-to-back league titles.
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