Saracens keep pace at the summit
January 8, 2012
Saracens claim victory in 2,000th Premiership clash%]
Saracens moved to within three points of Aviva Premiership leaders Harlequins thanks to a 26-19 victory over Bath on Sunday.
Owen Farrell kicked 16 points but missed another 12 as Sarries secured victory in the 2,000th Premiership game - Bath and Newcastle having played the first on August 23, 1997.
It was a big day for Farrell and his team-mates Charlie Hodgson, David Strettle and Brad Barritt, who have been the subject of England selection speculation in recent weeks. Equally, Bath duo Matt Banahan and Dave Attwood had Six Nations selection in mind on the back of last week's impressive 30-3 victory over London Irish.
All Black fly-half and World Cup winner Stephen Donald struck first in the fifth minute, finishing off a series of attacks by Bath sparked by scrum-half Michael Claassens and aided by Nick Abendanon. Donald gathered a loose ball, darted between the posts then added the conversion.
Saracens had an opportunity to get on the board in the ninth minute when French referee Pascal Gauzere penalised Bath for collapsing a scrum, but Farrell's penalty rebounded off the left-hand upright and was cleared.
Saracens lacked their usual sharpness during the opening exchanges whereas Bath threatened with ball in hand and forced their hosts to display their renowned defensive qualities a number of times during the opening 15 minutes.
Saracens lost prop Rhys Gill to the sin-bin on the quarter-hour mark for a scrum offence on his line, but they hauled themselves level on 19 minutes when Strettle's break on the left left two defenders in his wake. The winger was tackled, but Saracens retained possession and former England captain Steve Borthwick powered forward to score from close range. Farrell's conversion levelled matters.
Saracens lock Steve Borthwick reaches out to score © PA Photos
Bath regained the lead inside three minutes. Saracens strayed offside on the edge of their 22 and Donald kicked the resulting penalty. Farrell's 28th minute penalty attempt slammed against the same post as the first, and again flew clear.
The centre made no mistake on 32 minutes, firing home high and dead-centre after Bath failed to release after being trapped trying to break off their own scrum. He then edged his team in front for the first time with a penalty two minutes from the interval.
The elusive Strettle posed a constant threat after the break and after two of his trademark darting attacks, Bath were pinged for offside and Farrell increased the home side's lead after 48 minutes. Two minutes later Saracens went off their feet at a ruck, and it was the turn of Tom Heathcote to bang a penalty attempt against the same post struck twice by Farrell.
Bath continued to press, however, and when a careless knock-on by Alex Goode gave them a good platform, Heathcote got the chance to cut the lead with a 58th minute penalty, awarded for not releasing.
Farrell missed his third kick of the game 90 seconds later, and his fourth - a very poor effort - from close range on 62 minutes. Saracens scored their second try on 69 minutes, when Hodgson's pass to Goode was whipped on to Chris Wyles. The wing swept beyond the weak challenges of Abendanon and Banahan to score, Farrell converting.
Heathcote rifled over another penalty on 73 minutes to keep the pot boiling, but Farrell scored his sixth goal on 77 minutes and Heathcote kicked his third at the end to earn a bonus point.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
As Scotland decides its future, Scrum Sevens looks at a group of players who transcended rugby both for country and the British & Irish Lions
Ahead of November's USA-All Blacks match, America's ESPN Magazine explains rugby to its readers who may not be familiar with the game
Tom Hamilton talks to World Cup-winning captain John Smit about life after rugby, his fears over the South African exodus and the World Cup