Strettle stars in Sarries win
April 14, 2013
Sarries will have home advantage in the semi-finals%]
Saracens secured a home semi-final spot in the Premiership play-offs with a 47-17 bonus-point win in a highly entertaining game with Worcester at Allianz Park.
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David Strettle was the star performer, scoring a hat-trick of tries in the first 25 minutes as Saracens built a 23-3 lead. A huge victory looked likely for Saracens but Worcester, without an away league win this season, showed some spirit to contest the remainder of the match.
Worcester made two changes to their starting line-up with Danny Gray and John Andress replacing Andy Goode and Euan Murray, who was unavailable for religious reasons. Saracens rotated their squad with Owen Farrell, Schalk Brits, Steve Borthwick and Ernst Joubert all rested but Jacques Burger made a welcome return after an 18 month absence following knee surgery.
Worcester began strongly and took a second minute lead through a Danny Gray penalty but this was soon nullified with one from Charlie Hodgson. With their first attack, Saracens scored the opening try. John Smit softened up the visitors' defence with a couple of bursts before the ball was transferred sweetly along the line for Strettle to force his way over in the corner.
The score gave Saracens confidence and within minutes they were nearly over again. Chris Ashton flew past Alex Grove to take his side into the opposition 22 and the ball was recycled for Hodgson to give Ashton a scoring chance but he was pushed into touch inches short. Hodgson extended the lead with a penalty before Sarries scored their second try, a brilliant solo effort from Strettle.
From halfway the wing spotted a gap in the Worcester defence and raced away and easily evade Warriors full-back Chris Pennell for the try which Hodgson converted to give Saracens an 18-3 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Saracens scrum half Neil de Kock, was then left prostrate on the floor following a challenge from Josh Matavesi. As De Kock was receiving treatment, home coach Mark McCall reacted angrily, remonstrating with his opposite number Richard Hill. De Kock was led from the field but soon returned.
Saracens' dominance continued unabated as Kelly Brown's burst through half the Worcester side created a third try for Strettle, this time a simple run in. Worcester were in danger of being overrun but showed some fight when a strong run from Grove created a try for Josh Drauniniu which was converted by Gray.
De Kock did not reappear after the interval and within minutes of the restart the hosts had suffered two further blows. First Hodgson missed with a simple 30 metre penalty before Sarries conceded a second try. Drauniniu and David Lemi combined cleverly to take Worcester deep into the home 22 and from the resulting line-out Matt Kvesic was driven over for the try which Gray converted.
Stunned by the reverse, the complacent Saracens resumed control with a driving line-out try of their own with Carlos Nieto the scorer. Hodgson converted and added his third penalty before late tries from Ashton and Jackson Wray, both converted by Hodgson, ensured that the final score line was an accurate reflection of the game.
Saracens' lock Mouritz Botha is felled by the Worcester defence © PA Photos
Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall was unhappy with the late challenge de Kock. "It was a horrendous challenge; we could have lost our scrum-half with a broken jaw or cheekbone," said McCall. "Fortunately he seems to be ok but it looked pretty deliberate to me; I leapt up as I felt it could have been a deliberate game ploy from Worcester."
Hill, who accepted that the tackle was bad, said: "It was a very clumsy challenge from Josh but he's not a malicious player. It was badly mistimed and a citing seems likely. Josh has apologised and I fully understand Mark's reaction to protect his player."
Saracens were able to secure a home semi-final despite resting a number of key players. McCall added: "It showed the depth of our squad as we backed up well after a testing European quarter-final at Twickenham. We took our chances, David Strettle's second try was as good a finish as you will see but though we are happy with the win, we played well below our standard."
Hill said that he was not in favour of the artificial pitch at Allianz Park. "It is very fast and takes some getting used to. I'm not a fan of it as it creates a different type of game and I'm definitely a grass man."
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