Tag Archives: saracens

Heineken Cup quarter-final previews 2013

Your weekend guide to the Heineken Cup: Three English sides in the last eight

By
Rob Wildman

PUBLISHED:

21:00 GMT, 5 April 2013

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UPDATED:

21:00 GMT, 5 April 2013

Harlequins, Saracens and Leicester will be flying the flag for the Aviva Premiership in the Heineken Cup quarter-finals this weekend.

Here, Sportsmail tells you everything you need to know ahead of one of the most eagerly anticipated weekend's of the season…

Flying the flag: Manu Tuilagi starts for Leicester against Toulon

Flying the flag: Manu Tuilagi starts for Leicester against Toulon

Clermont Auvergne v Montpellier

(Saturday: Stade Marcel Micheli, 3.40pm, live on Sky Sports 1)

Clermont are favourites to extend a run of 58 successive home wins. Wales’ Lee Byrne and Scotland’s Nathan Hines face Scot Johnnie Beattie.

PREDICTION: Home win.

Harlequins v Munster

(Sunday: The Stoop, 2pm, live on Sky Sports 2)

England captain Chris Robshaw returns for Quins’ bid for a first semi-final. Munster are boosted by return of lock Paul O’Connell and wing Simon Zebo.

PREDICTION: Home win.

Home tie: Owen Farrell is in the Saracens side to face Munster at Twickenham

Home tie: Owen Farrell is in the Saracens side to face Munster at Twickenham

Saracens v Ulster

(Saturday: Twickenham, 6.30pm, live on Sky Sports 1)

Saracens opt for fly-half Owen Farrell over Charlie Hodgson. They also recall Scotland flanker Kelly Brown. Ulster welcome prop John Afoa.

PREDICTION: Home win.

Toulon v Leicester

(Sunday: Stade Felix Mayol, 4.30pm, live on Sky Sports 2)

Leicester name same starters for third week running. Toby Flood faces former Newcastle colleague in Jonny Wilkinson. Prop Andrew Sheridan starts.

PREDICTION: Away win.

Amlin Challenge Cup — quarter-final

Bath v Stade Francais

(Saturday: The Rec, 1pm, live on Sky Sports 1)

Bath move Horacio Agulla to centre for Matt Banahan. Nick Abendanon returns on wing. Italy captain Sergio Parisse is in a Stade team alongside ex-Wallaby flanker David Lyons.

PREDICTION: Away win.

Chris Ashton backed by Saracens coach Paul Gustard

Ashton backed by Saracens coach Gustard after poor Six Nations

By
Rob Wildman

PUBLISHED:

21:49 GMT, 2 April 2013

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UPDATED:

07:14 GMT, 3 April 2013

Chris Ashton, the under-fire England wing, has received the backing of Saracens defence coach Paul Gustard.

The club head into Saturday’s Heineken Cup quarter-final against Ulster at Twickenham believing Ashton is in excellent form despite his poor Six Nations campaign that led to an inquest into his tackling.

Ashton scored his first try in almost two months last Saturday, against Wasps, and Gustard expects more in the Heineken Cup.

Out of sorts: Ashton scored just one try in the Six Nations

Out of sorts: Ashton scored just one try in the Six Nations

Jumping for joy: Chris Ashton celebrates after scoring against Wasps

Jumping for joy: Ashton celebrates after scoring against Wasps last weekend

‘Even if Chris had not scored a try, it does not mean he’s not played well,’ Gustard said. ‘He’s done really, really well for us in the last two weeks and is in a good place after a good show at Wasps.

The problem of being a wing in rugby is that it’s a bit like being a goalkeeper in football. You are the last line in defence; a mistake can cost you.

‘Chris is not a bad defender. Sometimes, he misses a tackle but so what Everyone misses a tackle,’ Gustard added.

On the run: Ashton charges upfield playing for Saracens

On the run: Ashton charges upfield playing for Saracens

He could also be Ashton’s coach on England’s summer tour of Argentina if he does not make the Lions trip to Australia.

Gustard is taking over temporarily because Andy Farrell will help coach the Lions with Warren Gatland.

‘I’m not going to change the way England defend,’ he said. ‘The system has worked well over the last season. It’s a matter of learning and developing as a coach.’

Saracens 35 London Welsh 14 – Sarries go top: Match report

Saracens 35 London Welsh 14: Sarries go top as Strettle's hot streak continues

By
Mike Dawes

PUBLISHED:

17:02 GMT, 3 March 2013

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UPDATED:

17:02 GMT, 3 March 2013

David Strettle continued to push for an England recall by sealing a bonus point win for Saracens against beleaguered London Welsh that took them to the top of the Aviva Premiership.

The in-form winger followed up his double at Leicester last week by running in Sarries' fourth try as they took themselves four points clear of Harlequins at the summit.

It rounds off a difficult week for Welsh, who find out their fate over the alleged ineligibility of scrum-half Tyson Keats at an RFU hearing on Tuesday which is threatening to seal their fate in their battle against the drop.

Man of the moment: Strettle crosses the whitewash to score late on for Sarries

Man of the moment: Strettle crosses the whitewash to score late on for Sarries

The visitors got off to a disastrous start when Keats' kick in the first minute was charged down by Alistair Hargreaves, leading to a penalty and an easy three points for Charlie Hodgson.

Unsurprisingly, Saracens were having the lion's share of possession in the early stages and soon doubled their lead when Hodgson was given another simple kick at goal from under the posts.

A horribly-executed scrum then led a Welsh player being penalised for going in off his feet at a ruck, but Hodgson was this time unable to punish them as he kicked wide.

Completely against the run of play, London Welsh scored the game's first try after 26 minutes when Julio Cabello's off-load bounced nicely for Seb Stegmann on the left wing.

Flying start: Stegmann races clear for relegation-threatened Welsh

Flying start: Stegmann races clear for relegation-threatened Welsh

The debutant sold two Saracens players a dummy which both bought – and he could not believe his luck as he sauntered over, although Gavin Henson's missed conversion meant the hosts retained their lead.

But the visitors then lost Canadian winger Phil Mackenzie to the sin-bin and a few minutes later conceded a penalty try as a Sarries lineout led to a maul that was illegally dragged down.

To make matters worse, prop Tom Bristow was yellow-carded for the offence, but while they were down to 14 men, Henson knocked over a penalty.

High hopes: Joubert collects lineout ball for Saracens

High hopes: Joubert collects lineout ball for Saracens

However, yet more ill-discipline from the Exiles allowed Hodgson to slot another penalty before Henson reduced the gap to 16-11 with a scrappy drop goal that clipped the crossbar right on half-time.

Saracens managed to put more daylight between the sides seven minutes into the second half when a sweeping move involving Hodgson and Duncan Taylor led to Joel Tomkins holding off his tackler to score, with the former converting.

To London Welsh's credit, this latest setback still did not break their spirit and they brought the deficit back down to nine points with another Henson penalty.

Full stretch: Will Fraser adds another five points to Sarries' total

Full stretch: Will Fraser adds another five points to Sarries' total

The inevitable raft of substitutions hurt the game's rhythm somewhat, Hodgson seeing a penalty come back off the left-hand post.

But Sarries took a huge step towards victory just after the hour mark when Strettle found Schalk Brits, whose off-load allowed Will Fraser to just about finish in the corner, with the try awarded by the TMO.

Still Welsh refused to lie down and the visitors thought they had a route back in the game when Henson touched down on the right wing – only to see the try chalked off for obstruction by Tom Arscott in the build-up.

The outcome was settled with eight minutes remaining when Saracens sealed the bonus point after Strettle went through a gap that appeared to be made by Tomkins holding back Henson.

Six Nations 2013: England name team to play Ireland

Twelvetrees, Barritt, Haskell and Youngs all start for England in Ireland… (as Sportsmail predicted)

By
Rob Wildman

PUBLISHED:

10:15 GMT, 8 February 2013

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UPDATED:

10:19 GMT, 8 February 2013

We called it first…

Sportsmail's Chris Foy once again predicted England's line up correctly earlier this week

England confirmed this morning James Haskell will make his first in the Six Nations for two years when Stuart Lancaster’s team face Ireland, on Sunday, in Dublin.

The 27-year-old, who took himself off to play in Japan and New Zealand following England’s disastrous 2011 Rugby World Cup, starts at blindside flanker following the injury to Ben Morgan in last Saturday’s win over Scotland.

Tom Wood moves across to cover for Morgan at No 8 in a starting team which is otherwise unchanged from the one which beat Scotland 38-18.

Starting role: Haskell is given the nod at blindside with Wood moving to No 8

Starting role: Haskell is given the nod at blindside with Wood moving to No 8

ENGLAND (v Ireland, Dublin, Sunday, kick off 3pm):

Goode (Saracens);
Ashton (Saracens), Barritt (Saracens), Twelvetrees (Gloucester), Brown
(Harlequins); Farrell (Saracens), Ben Youngs (Leicester); Marler
(Harlequins), Tom Youngs (Leicester), Cole (Leicester), Launchbury
(Wasps), Parling (Leicester), Haskell (Wasps), Robshaw (Harlequins,
capt), Wood (Northampton).

Subs: Hartley (Northampton), Wilson (Bath), M Vunipola (Saracens), Lawes
(Northampton); Waldrom (Leicester), Care (Harlequins), Flood
(Leicester), Tuilagi (Leicester).

Haskell’s place on the bench from last week goes to Leicester’s Thomas Waldrom. Another new face among the reserves is centre Manu Tuilagi who takes over from David Strettle.

For head coach Lancaster, the biggest selection decision this week was whether to opt for fit-again Tuilagi over Billy Twelvetrees who had an impressive debut against Scotland.

But as predicted in Sportsmail this week he has opted to stay with the Gloucester player and Saracens’ Brad Barritt, leaving Tuilagi as an impact man to come off the bench. Lancaster has also decided to keep Tom Youngs at hooker ahead of Dylan Hartley.

For Haskell, who will be winning his 47th cap, it is vindication for his decision to return to England last spring and to rejoin his old club of Wasps.

Centre of attention: Barritt retains his place alongside Twelvetrees

Centre of attention: Barritt retains his place alongside Twelvetrees

His last start for England in the Six Nations came two years ago in the same game when Martin Johnson's team went to Dublin in search of a Grand Slam and lost.

Haskell, however, believes his world trip has made him a more ‘enriched person’ and spoke this week about a new mood in the England camp.

He said: ‘Running out to play for England is just as exciting as it ever was. I’ll keep playing for as long as they want me.’

Come in No 2: Tom Youngs starts ahead of Dylan Hartley at hooker

Come in No 2: Tom Youngs starts ahead of Dylan Hartley at hooker

Lancaster said he had made some difficult decisions. He explained: ‘With Manu coming back into the equation it gave us some selection decisions. But with the centres playing well last week and Manu still returning to match fitness, having not played for the last four weeks, he and others will give us great options from the bench in what I am sure will be a physical encounter.'

England also announced that they would be taking 24 players to Ireland for Sunday’s match as Sale’s uncapped prop Henry Thomas will act as travelling reserve.

Billy Vunipola set to sign new Wasps deal

EXCLUSIVE: Forward thinking to keep Billy at Wasps until 2015

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UPDATED:

22:29 GMT, 31 December 2012

Wasps are on the verge of retaining one of the brightest emerging talents in English rugby, Billy Vunipola.

The marauding Anglo-Tongan No 8 has been in sensational form for the revitalised Wasps this season but his contract expires in June, drawing intense speculation about his future plans.

Vunipola has been linked with Saracens, where older brother Mako — who made his England debut against Fiji at the start of the recent autumn series — plays.

On the run: Billy Vunipola looks set to sign a new deal at Wasps

On the run: Billy Vunipola looks set to sign a new deal at Wasps

Leicester have also reportedly expressed an interest in the 20-year-old ball-carrier, who was born in Sydney but has represented England at Under 18 and Under 20 level.

He grew up in Wales then Bristol, before attending Harrow school, and signed for Wasps in the hope of emulating club icon Lawrence Dallaglio.

This has been his breakthrough season, with 13 starts and 15 appearances as a 20st force of nature at the base of the scrum.

Going nowhere: Vunipola has been in impressive form for Wasps this season

Going nowhere: Vunipola has been in impressive form for Wasps this season

Dai Young, Wasps’ director of rugby, has repeatedly expressed his determination to keep hold of a player he feels is destined for senior England recognition in the near future.

Now it appears his wishes have been answered as Sportsmail understands Vunipola has reached agreement with the club about staying and is set to sign a new deal this week.

It would be a major coup for Wasps, and the development follows the decision in November by England lock sensation Joe Launchbury to commit to the club until June 2015. Young is developing a top squad on a core of great young, homegrown talent.

Saracens 17 Northampton 16: Stephen Myler misses penalty with last kick

Saracens 17 Northampton 16: Myler miss is a kick in the teeth for Jim's beaten Saints

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UPDATED:

19:40 GMT, 30 December 2012

Stephen Myler and Northampton were left shattered in Milton Keynes as the fly-half’s last-minute, long-range penalty to win a pulsating game hit the crossbar and bounced out, giving Saracens a dramatic reprieve.

The Saints No 10 was presented with a shot for glory from his own half, with just seconds remaining, in controversial circumstances. Saracens prop Rhys Gill was penalised by referee JP Doyle for kicking the ball away from a ruck, when replays suggested that the ball was out and he was entitled to do so.

Then, some back-chat from one of the home players prompted the official to march forward 10 metres, leaving Northampton with a penalty on the limit of kicking range.

Close call: Myler hit the crossbar with the final kick of the game

Close call: Myler hit the crossbar with the final kick of the game

Putting the boot in: Farrell

Putting the boot in: Farrell

Myler, who had already registered 11 points with the boot, took aim at the posts, some 57 metres away. He let fly and the ball soared towards the target, only to glance off the centre of the bar, allowing Brad Barritt to clear into the stands to clinch the narrow win which sees his side go into the new year second in the Aviva Premiership, one point behind champions and leaders Harlequins.

Back by the halfway line, Myler was left on his haunches, with his head in his hands. Jim Mallinder, Northampton’s director of rugby, turned and strode down the tunnel, frustrated by the agonising manner of this latest defeat against a top-four team and incensed by Doyle’s refereeing.

Afterwards, he said: ‘Should have won, could have won. If Stephen Myler had kicked that goal at the end, we’d all be in there now celebrating a great away victory.

‘To be honest, I didn’t think he could get it. I was definitely wondering if they had made the right decision but you have to leave it to the players. Stephen knows best if he has a realistic chance of kicking it or not. It was left up to him and I think he probably did make the right decision to go for it.’

In a tense final quarter, a few of Doyle’s decisions came in for close scrutiny, particularly a penalty awarded to Saracens at a ruck in the closing minutes. Ben Foden, the Saints and England full back, exploded with rage when the whistle sounded and vented his fury on the nearby touch judge. Mallinder, in slightly calmer fashion, echoed his sense of indignation.

‘The majority of the decisions early on were probably just, but the referee has got to be consistent,’ he said. ‘If he is going to penalise Dylan Hartley for going off his feet, quite rightly, then he has to do Barritt at the end of the game for the same offence. In the final 10 or 15 minutes, there was some decision-making by us which we’ll need to look at, and we’ll look at a couple of the referee’s decisions as well, because they can be the difference between winning and losing close games like that. He got a number of those decisions wrong today.’

For the first quarter of this game, it merely appeared a question of how many points Saracens would win by against their bitter rivals, whose supporters dominated the large festive crowd. The nomadic Hertfordshire club immediately appeared at home in a stadium where their opponents have staged matches in the past, and were ahead in the seventh minute.

Try time: Phil Dowson crossed for Northampton

Try time: Phil Dowson crossed for Northampton

From an attacking line-out on the left, George Kruis took a clean catch and the Saracens pack drove forward with great conviction, on and on over the line until John Smit touched down. Charlie Hodgson missed the conversion, but he was on target with an 11th-minute penalty and his side continued to dominate proceedings on the back of clear superiority in the scrum.

Yet, that set-piece advantage gradually faded as the Saints forwards rallied and in the 24th minute the visitors hit back.

From a scrum near halfway, Ken Pisi broke clear on the right, Courtney Lawes stormed on and when quick ball was delivered to Phil Dowson, the flanker burst through three tackles to score a try which Myler converted to make it 11-7.

Saracens retaliated with gusto to this renewed challenge and after David Strettle so nearly went clean through the middle in the Northampton 22, Will Fraser and Ernst Joubert drove strongly at the line but the ball went loose, Samu Manoa pounced on it and eventually a clearance kick by Lee Dickson alleviated the sustained pressure.

Cast adrift: Northampton are eight points behind Saracens

Cast adrift: Northampton are eight points behind Saracens

Moments later, the scrum-half’s dart forward brought a penalty to the Saints which Myler struck to narrow the deficit to one point at the break. After half-time, the visitors’ No 10 maintained his assured goal-kicking to establish a 16-11 lead for his team, while Hodgson missed three successive shots at the other end. Owen Farrell, who had replaced Joel Tomkins at outside centre, took over kicking duties and calmly dispatched two successive penalties to push Saracens in front again and they clung on with a little help from the crossbar which denied Myler.

Mark McCall, Sarries’ director of rugby, was relieved by the outcome of that last-gasp kick, saying: ‘I felt the same as everyone else felt. It was out of our hands. We knew it was a very difficult kick. It was an unbelievable strike in fairness. He had his kicking boots on today, so we are grateful to have come away with a narrow victory.’

In a measured reaction to Doyle’s officiating, McCall added: ‘There are always going to be things that you are not happy about. There was some frustration in our side from time to time and I am surprised they (Northampton) feel as strongly as they do about it.’

This defeat for the Saints leaves them sixth in the Premiership table but Mallinder remained bullish about their prospects of mounting a convincing title challenge. ‘We know we’re a good side and today proved that,’ he said.

‘There’s not a lot between the top teams and although we’re now mid-table, we’re not out of the running, by any means. There are a few people who have written us off already but there’s a long way to go. We won’t give up, we’ll be back.’

Exeter 12 Bath 12: Chiefs denied by late penalty try

Exeter 12 Bath 12: Chiefs denied victory over west country rivals after late penalty try

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UPDATED:

18:17 GMT, 29 December 2012

The conversation of a penalty try three minutes from time denied Exeter their first Premiership victory over west country rivals Bath in front of a sell-out crowd of 10,744 at Sandy Park.

Both sides went into the game on the back of defeats with Exeter seeing their run of seven victories halted by a 18-16 defeat at Gloucester while Bath were hammered 22-0 at home to Saracens.

Tom Hayes returned to the second row to lead the Chiefs while Phil Dollman came in at outside centre so James Hanks and Ian Whitten dropped to the bench where they were joined by the return of England international Tom Johnson.

Argie-bargy: Exeter's Argentine international wing Gonzalo Camacho hands off a challenge from Bath and England prop David Wilson

Argie-bargy: Exeter's Argentine international wing Gonzalo Camacho hands off a challenge from Bath and England prop David Wilson

Full back Ollie Devoto made his first Premiership start for Bath while inside centre Matt Banahan, locks Dave Attwood and Ryan Caldwell and number eight Ben Skirving all returned to action for the visitors.

The Chiefs applied the early pressure but conceded silly penalties and when close to the posts they had the ball turned over. Then with 12 minutes on the clock fly-half Gareth Steenson, with the wind at his back, landed the opening penalty.

But the visitors hit back immediately with a try started and finished by scrum half Michael Claassens in the left corner with great support play from wing Tom Biggs and fly-half Steven Donald. Claassens was unable to convert from touchline.

Exeter wasted a try scoring opportunity when full back Luke Arscott made the break through the middle and, with scrum half Hayden Thomas on his right in space, he passed to lock Aly Muldowney who was quickly brought to ground.

Delightful dozen: Steenson (right) kicked four penalties from four attempts

Delightful dozen: Steenson (right) kicked four penalties from four attempts

The home side were able to create breaks from deep in their own half but unforced errors or penalties were again the Chiefs downfall when they ventured into the Bath 22 allowing the visitors to keep their line intact.

Then, with time already up on the clock, Bath wing Horacio Agulla was penalised for coming in at the side of the ruck and Steenson stepped-up to land his second kick of the game and nudge the Chiefs into a 6-5 half-time lead.

Steenson increased the lead minutes after the restart when Bath repeated the previous offence just before the break but this time Skirving was the culprit. The penalty from the former Ireland under-21 took him past 1,000 points since his Exeter debut in 2008.

All square: Neither side were able to claim all four points

All square: Neither side were able to claim all four points

The Chiefs were certainly an improved side in the second half at the scrum and the lineout as well as limiting their errors. Bath strayed offside when inside their own 22 and Steenson kept a clean sheet with his fourth penalty kick.

Exeter again showed that they too can defend their own line and with the game going into the final 10 minutes the Chiefs again camped out inside the Bath 22. But when they turned a Bath scrum the home side were penalised for standing up.

Bath won a penalty inside the Exeter 22 and opt to kick for the corner and then the Chiefs were penalised at the ruck. Bath repeated the move and referee David Rose awarded a penalty try. Tom Heathcote added the extras to level the score.

Wasps 25 Sale 18: Sharks relegation fears worsen

Wasps 25 Sale 18: Suffering Sharks rise above Danny debacle to claim bonus point

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UPDATED:

22:27 GMT, 23 December 2012

Sale arrived at Adams Park in a state of near disarray on Sunday but they left with renewed hope in their relegation fight, as Johnny Leota’s last-minute try and Rob Miller’s conversion secured a vital bonus point.

This was Wasps’ eighth consecutive home win in all competitions and they were propelled to victory by marauding 20-year-old No 8 Billy Vunipola.

Fortress: Wasps have now won eight from eight at Adams Park this season

Fortress: Wasps have now won eight from eight at Adams Park this season

His storming break from a scrum in the
52nd minute set up a try for Rhys Thomas to put the result beyond doubt
and suggest he could soon force his way into the senior England squad to
join his brother, Saracens prop Mako.

While Dai Young’s side climbed to
seventh in the Aviva Premiership table, the scoreline was far more
significant for the bottom club, who closed the gap behind London Irish
to five points.

Bonus: Richie Vernon is mobbed after scoring Sale's try

Bonus: Richie Vernon is mobbed after scoring Sale's try

After the 62-0 massacre at the hands
of Toulon last Sunday, there was character and resilience from the
Sharks on Sunday, personified by returning hooker Marc Jones. It all
came to fruition in the closing seconds when, from a scrum on the right,
Cillian Willis darted forward and Leota barged through to touch down.
Miller, who had missed two routine shots at goal, struck the conversion
with conviction.

Such a scenario seemed highly
unlikely before the game. After the record loss in France, Danny
Cipriani had been dropped, with interim director of rugby John Mitchell
pulling no punches in deriding the fly-half’s defensive work. Then,
after Sale’s head of social media had ignited a storm by condemning
protesting fans as ‘f***wits’ on Facebook, chairman Brian Kennedy
delivered his own damning verdict on Cipriani.

Lion-in-waiting: Joe Launchbury collects a high ball for the home side

Lion-in-waiting: Joe Launchbury collects a high ball for the home side

‘Danny didn’t want to tackle last
week,’ he said. ‘If you can’t defend, there’s no place for you in
Premiership rugby. Danny had a dreadful game in defence last week. If
you’re not prepared to put your body on the line for this club, who pay
your wages and give you the chance to play at the highest level each
week, then you won’t be in the squad.’

Cipriani was stunned by the public
broadside from his employer, but Mitchell didn’t spare him after this
match either. Referring to his decision to leave him out, the Kiwi said:
‘I’m certainly not Santa Claus — I don’t care where he played before.
All I’ve asked him to do is defend. Our defence was good last week until
he chose to be an individual. You have to serve your team-mates before
yourself. If he improves his defence, he’ll be back involved again.’

Putting the boot in: Stephen Jones (centre) kicked 14 points

Putting the boot in: Stephen Jones (centre) kicked 14 points

Despite the potentially disruptive
nature of this sideshow, Sale improved their performance from the
previous week and Mitchell added: ‘You cannot discount the importance of
that bonus point today. If we can win our next game, at home to
Worcester, it would put us right back where we need to be.
‘Everyone has to take responsibility for where we are and things have to
change. We’ve got to make it happen on the 28th, then it can become a
defining game.’

While Sale’s kickers struggled,
Stephen Jones landed 14 points – four penalties and a conversion – with a
flawless display. Elliot Daly weighed in with a three-point shot from
the left flank on halfway, just before the break. That gave Wasps the
lead again, after Sam Tuitupou’s rampaging run in midfield had caused
sufficient mayhem for Richie Vernon to score the visitors’ first try on
the right.

Battering ram: James Haskell is tackled by David Seymour

Battering ram: James Haskell is tackled by David Seymour

In the second half, it was Vunipola’s
dramatic intervention which gave the hosts the decisive edge and while
Young was critical of the team effort, he was effusive in his praise of
the Anglo-Tongan back-row prospect, saying: ‘Billy was outstanding in
attack and defence. He’s been in the same vein of form for most of this
season, it’s hard to believe he is only 20.

‘If he was called upon by England, he
wouldn’t let anyone down and I don’t think it will be too long before
he is putting on an England jersey.’

Bath 0 Saracens 22 – match report

Bath 0 Saracens 22: Hodgson steers Sarries to comfortable victory at rain-soaked Rec

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UPDATED:

16:14 GMT, 22 December 2012

Charlie Hodgson steered Saracens to a crushing Aviva Premiership victory with a masterly performance in treacherous conditions at the Recreation Ground.

The former England fly-half kicked five penalties and set up a try for half-back partner Richard Wigglesworth with the one moment of magic in the game. And he added the conversion for good measure.

Bath had very little to offer and too often found themselves in the wrong areas of the pitch, unable to break the stranglehold, let alone to fashion a telling break themselves.

Best foot forward: Hodgson sends over another three points for Sarries

Best foot forward: Hodgson sends over another three points for Sarries

The Recreation Ground pitch had been under covers from Thursday but the surface was still soggy and standing water could be seen in the dead-ball area under the hospitality boxes and in one or two places on the touchlines.

Bath came into the game on the back of a double-header with Calvisano which yielded 106 points to keep them top seeds in the Amlin Cup. With Matt Banahan still under suspension, head coach Gary Gold continued with a centre partnership of Ben Williams and Kyle Eastmond, who found himself lining up against former rugby league rival Joel Tomkins.

Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall rested England men Alex Goode and Brad Barritt, switching Owen Farrell to inside centre to allow Hodgson to return at fly-half. Mako Vunipola started at loosehead prop.

Wet and wild: The conditions were difficult in the incessant rain at the Recreation Ground

Wet and wild: The conditions were difficult in the incessant rain at the Recreation Ground

Wet and wild: The conditions were difficult in the incessant rain at the Recreation Ground

Bath were quickly on the attack as Michael Claassens chipped over David Strettle's head to the 22. A strong drive forced a line-out even closer to the line but Saracens scrambled a clearing kick away – and that was as close as the home side came to scoring before half-time.

Saracens used their trademark kicking game to keep their pack on the front foot and Bath at bay. Apart from a flourish from Horacio Agulla, handing off Matt Stevens in a typically feisty run, the home side rarely ventured as far upfield as the Saracens 22.

Hodgson fired a drop-goal attempt just wide but was immediately given a long-range penalty attempt to open the scoring after 14 minutes.

Tomkins then put Chris Ashton away on the right but referee Greg Garner spotted a forward pass. The try was not long in coming, however. With perfect line-out ball off the top, Hodgson made light of the underfoot conditions to glide effortlessly through the Bath defence. Strettle was on his elbow and Wigglesworth finished off in a muddy splash.

Leap of faith: Saracens were comfortable victors

Leap of faith: Saracens were comfortable victors

While Hodgson converted impressively from wide out on the left, Bath's Stephen Donald appeared to be having difficulty keeping his footing as he missed a penalty from 45 metres.

Hodgson then simply chipped over another penalty at the other end to extend the lead to 13-0.
Donald was wide and short with two more attempts – all from a good distance – before Hodgson added another three points from 25 metres after Nick Abendanon was caught in possession from a lofted kick.

It was a more competitive Bath side that appeared for the second half. Strong mauling and driving had Saracens on the defensive and Ben Williams broke through for the first time. Saracens scrambled back successfully and also survived a heavy spell of pressure in the right corner.

The one area where Saracens had not been dominant was the scrum but, pinned back on their own line, they won a penalty on the Bath put-in. That moment seemed to end Bath's slim hopes of a comeback.

Having ended the siege, the visitors worked themselves into position for Hodgson to land his fourth penalty on the hour, extending the lead to 19 points, unassailable in the conditions.

Shortly afterwards another penalty attempt hit the post and he was also wide from longer range but there was no mistake when Hodgson was offered a more straightforward chance after 74 minutes. Saracens finished firmly in control, as they had been for most of the game.

Saracens 19 Munster 13: Match report

Saracens 19 Munster 13: Farrell's boot edges Sarries closer to Heineken Cup qualification

PUBLISHED:

17:57 GMT, 16 December 2012

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UPDATED:

17:57 GMT, 16 December 2012

Owen Farrell edged the battle of the erratic goal-kickers as Saracens won a compelling contest against Munster at Vicarage Road to top Pool One of the Heineken Cup.

With two games remaining in the pool stage, Saracens hold a two-point advantage over Racing Metro and a three-point cushion over Munster who now have it all to do to remain in the competition.

Saracens were deserved winners, overcoming the loss of Will Fraser to the sin bin, but had to rely on 14 points from the boot of Farrell for their success.

Just bootiful: Owen Farrell was the difference for Saracens

Just bootiful: Owen Farrell was the difference for Saracens

Munster grabbed an interception try from Doug Howlett but failed to take advantage of Fraser's absence and two late misses from Ronan O'Gara cost them dearly.

The game began with a spark as the first ruck culminated in a heated melee between the packs, resulting in a warning being given to the captains.

The opening minutes were frenetic as both sides harried each other into mistakes. Saracens had the first sustained attack and the first scoring chance but Farrell's 25-metre drop-goal attempt sailed narrowly wide.

After eight minutes, Farrell was given another opportunity and this time he was on target with a long-range penalty.

A poor kick from Farrell, which went straight to Simon Zebo, gave Munster their first chance to counter-attack. O'Gara produced an exquisite chip over the top for Zebo to collect but a knock-on by hooker Mike Sherry prevented the move from developing.

On the charge: Schalk Brits of Saracens is tackled by Peter O'Mahoney

On the charge: Schalk Brits of Saracens is tackled by Peter O'Mahoney

Saracens conceded a penalty at the resulting scrum but O'Gara fired wide, however moments later the outside-half made no mistake with his second effort after Farrell had been penalised for not releasing.

Munster suffered a setback when full-back Felix Jones limped off, to be replaced by Luke O'Dea, but although Saracens had marginally the better of the first quarter it was still 3-3 at the end of it.

However after 22 minutes, the hosts scored the opening try when Farrell's clever chip through saw David Strettle easily win the race for the touchdown which Farrell converted.

Back came Munster to tie up the scores. Farrell's loose pass on half-way was intercepted by James Downey, and although the centre was caught by Strettle he got the ball away to Howlett who scored for O'Gara to convert.

Mixed emotions: Saracens pack celebrate winnning a late scrum as the dejected Munster forwards look on

Mixed emotions: Saracens pack celebrate winnning a late scrum as the dejected Munster forwards look on

Saracens continued to dominate in terms of possession and territory but they could not make it count at that stage.

Strettle was hauled down just short of the line and Farrell missed a penalty so it remained at 10-10 at the interval.

When O'Dea fumbled an up-an-under early in the second half, it allowed Saracens a position in the visitors 22. Munster were penalised but again Farrell could not take advantage.

Against the run of play, O'Gara put his aside ahead with a penalty after Downey nailed his former Northampton colleague Chris Ashton, who was penalised for not releasing.
Farrell responded with a simple penalty after Munster offended at a scrum and minutes later kicked another to give Saracens a 16-13 lead going into the final quarter.

Saracens suffered a huge blow when Will Fraser was yellow-carded for a high tackle on Howlett.

Munster immediately piled on the pressure for their best period of the match but O'Gara's drop goal and penalty attempts both missed the target.

Saracens survived the onslaught and it was left to Farrell to seal a crucial victory with a penalty four minutes from time.