Saracens power into quarter-finals
January 20, 2013
Saracens winger Chris Ashton grabbed two tries in the clash at a snowy Vicarage Road
© Getty Images
Saracens powered to a 40-7 victory over Edinburgh in their Heineken Cup clash at Vicarage Road on Sunday to cement their place in the quarter-finals and line-up a valuable home tie in the last eight.
Sarries made light of the snowy conditions that threatened to blight their last-ever game at Vicarage Road, scoring five tries to qualify from the pool stage for the second season in a row with Charlie Hodgson's late score ensuring a priceless bonus-point. Chris Ashton gave himself a timely boost two weeks before the start of the Six Nations with two of the tries, with Sarries' other scores coming from Matt Stevens and Chris Wyles.
Saracens led after 10 minutes when Edinburgh were penalised for offside, giving Owen Farrell the sort of chance that he has been kicking in his sleep in recent weeks. Five minutes later Farrell, playing at outside centre, doubled his side's advantage with a long-range penalty after Robin Hislop had lost his bind at a scrum.
As expected, Sarries were having the majority of possession and Farrell soon had another three points to add to his tally after Dougie Fife held on to the ball in the tackle in his own half.
The hosts' first try arrived in the 27th minute when Richard Wigglesworth chipped the ball towards the right-hand corner and Ashton was left all alone to touch down. Farrell's conversion from out wide came back off the near post - bringing to an end a run of 26 successful kicks.
Almost out of nothing, Edinburgh hit back when full-back Greig Tonks booted the ball downfield and chased ahead. His opposite number Wyles fumbled, allowing Tonks to pick up and score with Greig Laidlaw's conversion bringing the deficit down to seven points.
The try really energised the visitors for the rest of the half, but they were unable to make any more progress before the break. Farrell then had the chance to extend his side's lead early in the second half but could only push a kickable penalty wide.
But his vision a few minutes later led to Ashton's second try when he quickly smashed a penalty towards the right wing, where the England flyer was waiting to gather and run in.
The bonus point moved within sight with 27 minutes still to play when an attacking line-out following a penalty drove its way over the tryline with former England prop Stevens touching down.
Farrell got himself back on track by adding the extras but Sarries were unable to immediately pile on the pressure as play began to get scrappy. David Strettle thought he was going to be the man to get that fourth try when he chased down Hodgson's grubber but was judged to be offside.
The home side were left frustrated again when another Hodgson kick was gathered by Brad Barritt, only for him to be superbly held up by Fife.
With five minutes left, Hodgson sealed the bonus point himself when he checked inside before going through a gap, prompting wild celebrations amongst the Saracens players.
There was still time for one more try at the death when another Hodgson kick ahead was just missed by Joel Tomkins, but Wyles was there to follow up.
Reflecting on his side's latest euro triumph, Saracens boss Mark McCall said: "It was great to see Ashy score a couple of tries and getting back to what he really does best. The second try was fantastic and I wish I could claim credit for thinking that up; Ashy and Owen (Farrell) just saw each other and they pulled it off.
"We can appreciate just how difficult it was out there and we said after the game that the conditions were as bad as it gets with the ball like a bar of soap. The key was being patient and to keep our composure, but also to control the game enough through position and with that the opportunities would come and then we would put them away."
Edinburgh head coach Michael Bradley was less inmpressed by Ashton's second score. "For their second try, the tee was on the pitch and if the tee's on the pitch they have to kick at goal," he said. "The only reasons the guy next to Farrell can be on the pitch are if there's an injury or he's bringing the tee out and I suspect that that shouldn't have been a try.
"It would have made our lives a bit easier as well because momentum is a big thing in rugby matches. In fairness, it would have been hard to deny Saracens either way because they were by far the better side and they deserved to get the bonus point. So you can argue the toss about their second try but they still scored five tries so they deserved their luck on the day."
Saracens' Steve Borthwick braces for a tackle © Getty Images
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
The latest Week in Pictures takes in all the action from the weekend when rugby united behind Samoa
The Wallabies showed flair in Dublin, but they still have a way to go if they are to do more than make up the numbers at the World Cup, writes Greg Growden
England broke their losing streak, but this was not them clawing their way back among the best, writes Tom Hamilton
Wales' lessons to learn in defeat by New Zealand are almost exactly the same as those from previous near-misses, writes Huw Richards