Return of fans had Saracens players buzzing, says Mark McCall
- Credit: PA
Saracens boss Mark McCall described the return of fans to StoneX Stadium as "magic" after Ampthill were overwhelmed 69-12.
All five of the club's British and Irish Lions came through a feisty 11-try rout unscathed, with a crowd of 2,000 watching a competitive match for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began.
"It was magic. When the team ran out, it felt completely different and the players loved it. It was really enjoyable to play with the crowd there," McCall said.
"It definitely made a difference and our players were buzzing in the warm-up. Rugby requires crowds, fans and emotion.
"It's been difficult over the last few months and hopefully this is the start of things to come."
Saracens climbed to second in the Greene King IPA Championship with two rounds of the regular season left, maintaining their play-off collision course with Ealing.
"It's in our own hands, which is the important thing. We've got a five-day turnaround and are playing Coventry next who are a good side and who have had a lot of good results recently," McCall said.
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"We have to rest our players. We had the luxury against Ampthill of taking a lot of our players off, including our front row after 40 minutes. Overall it was good effort and we scored some lovely tries."
Jamie George and Mako Vunipola were replaced at half-time to make way for a whole new front row, while England captain Farrell came off 11 minutes later still wearing the bandage around his head that was needed to dress an early wound.
Maro Itoje followed him into the stands shortly after, with Elliot Daly the last of the five Lions bound for South Africa next month to leave the pitch.
Alex Goode made his first appearance since completing a loan spell at NEC Green Rockets, deputising for Farrell at fly-half and celebrating his return by immediately launching a counter-attack.
Mid-table Ampthill were missing five players on loan from Saracens who were ineligible to play, but they still offered stiff resistance for long spells, particularly in a gutsy first half that witnessed several scuffles.
When Nick Tompkins danced over in the fourth minute, they appeared to be facing a long evening in north London.
Tries by George and Tompkins helped establish a 21-0 lead, but the underdogs were spending increasing time in home territory and their enterprise was rewarded when Syd Blackmore was driven over at a line-out that was reinforced by several backs.
A second try appeared imminent, but acrobatic rucking by Alex Humfrey saw Ampthill penalised just as they closed in on the whitewash and on their next attack Saracens crossed through Sean Maitland.
Maitland then scored a second try before Ali Crossdale raced over in the left corner early in the second-half and shortly after Elliott Obatoyinbo dummied his way across the whitewash.
Replacement hooker Tom Woolstencroft scored two similar tries in quick succession, but Ampthill produced another purple patch and touched down through Spencer Sutherland.
Saracens had the final say, however, as Crossdale finished a sublime move created by Goode's vision in midfield before Dom Morris dashed over in injury-time.
Saracens now face Coventry this weekend in their penultimate game.