Saracens seize top spot with bonus win
March 3, 2013
Saracens down London Welsh to claim top spot
David Strettle continued to push for an England recall by sealing a 35-14 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.
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.
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.
Saracens boss Mark McCall reflects on his side's victory
To make matters worse, prop Tom Bristow was yellow-carded for the offence, but while they were down to 13 men, Henson knocked over a penalty. 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.
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.
Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall was not overly impressed by his side's display but was happy with the win nonetheless. He said: "Credit to them but we were loose in the first half and in the end we're pleased to get the five points against a team that gave everything. David [Strettle] is playing the best he's played in certainly the last three seasons. Obviously he's scored a try but he was instrumental in the build-up to some of the others so he's playing as well as he has since he joined us.
"Being top is obviously a good position to be in - we've got Quins here next in two weeks time, which is going to be a huge game. This part of the season is about positioning yourself so to respond from the London Irish game where we played so poorly with three bonus point wins is a heck of an effort."
London Welsh boss Lyn Jones was left frustrated by the performance of the officials. He said: "Coaches, players or anybody involved in rugby aren't perfect. We all make mistakes but all we ask for is consistency and that was missed. You just want to go from week to week with a basic understanding of what is a competitive ruck.
"I felt the first two rucks were clear wins for us but they were penalties against us and if that's what the rules are that's fine. But then in the second half it wasn't like that - are you allowed to compete for the ball or not? I'm just confused about it and I'm just a coach. I don't know what it's like for players because one week it's all one thing then the following week it's completely different and I'm struggling with the consistency."
Saracens flanker Will Fraser touches down in the corner © Getty Images
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